In our previous post we explained how employees can get help if they are fired for filing a workers’ compensation claim. We recommend employees file a complaint with Washington Labor and industries. Employees cannot always use that method. For example, employees must file a complaint within 90 days of the discrimination. An employee may not be able to file a complaint in that short time period. However, there are other options available to Washington employees. In this post we will discuss a second option.
Washington Tort of Wrongful Discharge in Violation of Public Policy
Washington employees facing discrimination or retaliation for filing a workers’ compensation claim might be able to file a wrongful termination claim. If the employee cannot make a timely complaint to the Director of Labor & Industries or is unhappy with the investigation’s result, then the Tort of Wrongful Discharge in Violation of Public Policy (TWDVPP) may be helpful. The time limit to file such a claim in court is three years. We always advise employees to act fast and contact a lawyer right away. Employees should not wait for three years because it takes time investigate, prepare, and file these claims.
First, this option is only available if the employee’s employment was terminated or if the employee was forced to quit. If the employee was simply demoted, or disciplined, then this claim is unavailable
Second, the Washington Tort of Wrongful Discharge in Violation of Public Policy only applies in certain special situations. Washington is an at-will employment state. That means an employer can fire an employee for any reason or even no reason.
But, there are important exceptions to the “at-will” employment rule. For example, an employer cannot fire someone for an illegal reason. Example of Illegal reasons in Washington include firing someone because of the color of their skin (race discrimination), for being pregnant (pregnancy and sex discrimination), for being a different religion (religious discrimination), for being gay (sexual orientation discrimination), etc. An employer also can’t fire someone for making a complaint under the discrimination laws (retaliation).
Our Washington Supreme Court also decided that employers should be held responsible for terminating someone (or forcing someone to quit) because that person took some action to protect an important public policy or exercising a recognized legal right or privilege. For example, an employee that files a Workers Compensation claim is exercising a legal right. In summary, if an employee is discharged or forced to quit after he or she filed a worker’s compensation claim, then a claim under the wrongful discharge tort might be available,