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 State: NY


Employer's Termination Policy Constituted Retaliation


A company's policy of firing workers who suffer a preventable workplace injury ran afoul of New York's statutory prohibition of discriminating against workers for filing workers' compensation claims.


Case: Rodriguez v. C & S Wholesale Grocers, No. 516124, 07/03/2013, published.


Facts: Julio Rodriguez worked for C & S Wholesale Grocers as an order selector − a job that consisted of moving large pallets of grocery goods in preparation for shipment to customers. His duties required that Rodriguez operate a motorized pallet jack to move the heavy pallets throughout the warehouse, and he was trained to use this equipment pursuant to his employer's safety guidelines.


When he started the job, Rodriguez signed a statement agreeing that if he suffered a preventable injury during his 90-day probationary period, he would automatically forfeit his right to work for C & S.


One week before his probation period was up, Rodriguez hurt his foot on the pallet jack. He reported the accident, sought medical treatment and missed a few days of work. Upon his return, C & S told him he had been fired since it felt his injury had been caused by his unsafe operation of the pallet jack, and thus, it had been preventable.


Rodriguez then filed a claim for workers' compensation benefits and a discrimination complaint under Workers' Compensation Law Section 120.


Procedural History: A workers' compensation law judge found that the C & S 90-day preventable injury termination policy, as applied to Rodriguez and as generally applied, was a violation of Section 120.


The Workers' Compensation Board agreed.


Analysis: Section 120 prohibits an employer from discriminating against an employee because that employee either claimed or attempted to claim workers' compensation benefits.


The Appellate Division's 3rd Department noted that the C & S policy will cause a worker to lose his or her job if he or she is hurt while violating a safety rule, but if the worker is unhurt, then he or she does not lose the job.


The court said the policy therefore "effectively categorizes probationary employees into two groups: those who violate safety rules but are not injured, and those who violate safety rules  and are injured − with only the latter group automatically forfeiting their right to work for the employer."


Such a policy, the court said, "dissuades those probationary employees who are injured in the course of their employment and wish to remain employed from reporting their injury and pursuing workers' compensation benefits, which, in turn, runs counter to the Legislature's intended purpose of insuring that employees can exercise their rights under the compensation statutes."


Disposition: Affirmed.


To read the decision, click here.


Source: WorkCompCentral 

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