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Workers' comp and employer retaliation: employees can fight back

It's better, ultimately, to face your fears. Perhaps you've been injured at work but are reluctant to pursue a workers' compensation claim because you fear your employer may hold it against you. If you are facing that situation, keep in mind that the employer is not legally allowed to do that.

To be sure, sometimes employers violate the law and fire employees for exercising the right to obtain workers' compensation after an injury or illness suffered on the job. Keep in mind, however, that if that happens, an employee can fight back not only with a workers' comp claim, but with other legal actions as well.

Maryland workers can therefore take heart from a current case in Washington State. The case involves employees asserting their rights despite egregious employer misconduct.

Nine employees of a gun range became ill from lead poisoning after their employer made them sift through tons of soil contaminated with lead and other toxic substances. When the employees filed workers' compensation claims and reported safety concerns to government regulators, the employer fired them.

If the gun range owner thought the firings would end the matter, he was greatly mistaken. The employees have brought a lawsuit arguing that they were fired for retaliation for filing valid workers' compensation claims and brining legitimate concerns about safety to appropriate government authorities. The damages they are seeking go well beyond workers' compensation to include damages for retaliatory discharge under relevant labor laws.

According to the employees, the employer did not only expose them to toxic chemicals without proper training or protective gear. The employers also committed glaring falsehoods by claiming that public agencies such as OSHA had approved the lead remediation project at the gun range. No such approval had actually been given.

Source: "Fired for Getting Lead Poisoning, Nine Say," Courthouse News, June Williams, 2-14-13

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