Got hurt at work, too scared of retaliation to go to hospital, fired a year later...
About a year ago I was injured at work. I made an incident report about this instance but, due to fears I will get into later, I was terrified of “making waves” and did not insist on a worker’s compensation claim as I should have and did not go to the hospital right away.
At the time I was injured, I was working in the Meat Department at national chain retail/grocery store, a job which I had held since the store opened 11 years ago. I have always been a good employee and always received top commendations on my Employee Reviews. I almost always exceeded the expectations of my supervisors. I was rarely if ever late and known to help those around me.
Due to my increasing age and arthritis, however, I began to worry about my own health and well being in the Meat Department. I was regularly lifting 65-lb boxes. It was hurting my back and my joints and I began asking around about being transferred to a “light-duty” position.
I was willing to take a pay cut for the transfer but I wouldn’t give up my full time as I needed my health insurance to pay for my blood pressure medication. I had heard that the front end was always looking for help, and I was often called to the front to help with the registers anyway, so I tried to transfer.
At first, the store manager told me I couldn’t keep my full time if I switched, forcing me to stay in the meat department for a few more weeks. Another manager however, eventually allowed me to make the transfer. Days after this was changed, while I was still finishing up my time in the meat department, I came across a freezer door that I needed to get into.
I pulled on the handle to the door only to realize that the door was iced shut. It took excessive force to open, and the handle was slick with condensation. My grip slipped, and I fell and hit my head on the concrete floor. Two witnesses saw the incident.
I was in a lot of pain at the time, but I didn’t lose consciousness so I assumed I would be OK. I filed an incident report, which according to store policy gives you the right to make a worker's comp claim within the next few days. I had headaches through these days but nothing too noticeably serious, so I did not go. I also seem to have lost my balance control and some of my hearing, but I really didn’t want to lose my job so I didn’t say anything.
If you are wondering why I was so scared to lose my job, it is because my daughter, while working up front at the same store (I actually got her the job), suffered a psychological break and was diagnosed with schizophrenia after engaging in out-of-character behavior. She was not only stealing, the store prosecuted her to the full extent of the law.
My husband and I paid her medical and legal fees, including the money she owed. After it happened, I became the subject of many stares from supervisors, as well as coworkers. No one ever said anything about it, but I got the distinct feeling that I was being watched since this incident.
For about a year after my transfer, I continued to run the cash register without much trouble. I was having a bit of trouble getting around due to the abuse my body had taken, but, other than that, I had no complaints. However, about 2 weeks ago, I took a spill at home, and everything began worsening again.
I lost my balance removing clothing from the washer. I got dizzy and fell, finding myself in agony on the floor. I could barely move. I made it to the doctor on a cane, only to get a few pain pills. When I returned to work, some of my supervisors made remarks about my cane. One tried to insist I bring it to the back room, but I insisted that I needed it to walk. I was allowed to use my cane at this point. However, I was fired only days later.
According to what I was told, I was fired for my first mistake in 11 years; they say I sold some type of diet pills to a teenager. I do not remember doing this and am ordinarily very careful about age-restricted items. I’m not saying it’s impossible, but it all seems very odd to me, especially since the manager who fired me told me that the teenager did not require emergency treatment and we were very lucky that they weren’t suing the store.
Though I am aware that selling age-restricted items to minors can be very dangerous, I wouldn't ever knowingly have done so, and I haven’t made a single other mistake in the 11 years I worked for that company. So my questions to you are as follows:
1. Is the sale of diet pills regulated by law like the sale of alcohol and tobacco?
2. Is such an offense considered to be a firing offense or would someone else have gotten another chance?
3. Is there any way to sue for the damages done to my body in the accident that I never made into a worker’s comp claim?
4. And is there any way to sue for wrongful termination due to the (almost) obvious fact that I was fired probably for being physically disabled?
Thanks so much for any information you can give about these issues.
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ANSWER for "Got hurt at work, too scared of retaliation to go to hospital, fired a year later...":
I'll try and answer your questions one at a time.
1. I'm confident when referring to "diet pills" you don't mean diet pills which must be prescribed by a physician. Instead you mean "dietary supplements." Dietary supplements and other weight-loss aids are not subject to laws regulating the sale of prescribed diet pills. As a result, diet supplements may be sold to the public. It's up to the seller to decide who they will sell the supplements to. In other words, it's voluntary.
Once a diet supplement is on the market however, the Food and Drug Administration can monitor its safety and take action where necessary to ban or recall the supplements. For example, the FDA has banned the sale of supplements containing ephedra and ephedrine-like products.
2. Although you don't mention the name of the state in which you reside, it's highly probable you are an "at-will" employee. As such, you can be fired from your job at anytime with little or no reason. There are some exceptions. The one which may apply to you is firing because of your age.
In your case if you are able to prove you were fired because of your age, you may have the basis for a wrongful termination case based on age discrimination. Otherwise, unless your employee manual states employees must be given a second chance, or your employer has some form of appellate rights for terminated employees, your firing will stand.
3. You may not have to sue anyone. Instead, file a workers compensation claim. You have the right. This applies even after your firing. Under state workers compensation laws you have a right to be evaluated by a company approved physician to determine of your injuries are a result of your job duties. If so, you have a right to "free" medical care, and payment for your out of pocket expenses such as medications.
There are no pain and suffering payments in workers compensation claims. If the physician decides your injuries were a result of your job duties and are therefore disabling, you may have a right to a workers compensation cash award for medical bills, out of pocket expenses, and lost wages.
4. This will be a restatement of my answer to your 2nd and 3rd question. If your injuries are disabling you don't have a right to sue for discrimination. Instead, you may be entitled to a workers compensation cash disability award.
The above is general information. Laws change frequently, and across jurisdictions. You should get a personalized case evaluation from an attorney licensed in your state. Find a local attorney to give you a free case review here, or call (888) 647-2490.
Best of luck,
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