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Can Workers Be Fired for Work Restrictions or an Injury?

Have you been injured at work or developed a medical condition that prevents you from performing your job duties as usual? You may be wondering “Can I Be Fired for Work Restrictions?”

Generally, employers cannot fire an employee due to work restrictions due to a workplace injury. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities, including work restrictions. 

However, if your injury was not work-related, your employer may not be required to offer modified duty. And if your injury is such that re-injury is possible, they may want to limit their liability by not offering reasonable accommodations. As if you got re-injured from an initial non-work related injury, all costs associated with the injury could now fall to the employer.

But it depends on the laws in your state.

Some states have more stringent protections for employees with disabilities than others. Finally, it depends on your employer’s ability to accommodate you. If your employer is a small business with limited resources, it may be more difficult for them to accommodate you than a large corporation.

And all that being said, if you are in violation of other unrelated policies (tardiness, etc.) you could be terminated for that regardless of your work restrictions.

Injured female employee working in the office

Do Employees Have a Right to Work Restrictions?

Employee rights, including right-to-work restrictions, are essential in labor laws. This concerns whether employers can limit an employee’s future employment, particularly after they depart.

Non-compete clauses prevent employees from joining competitors or launching similar businesses for a set period post-departure. These aim to safeguard a company’s proprietary data, trade secrets, and client ties.

However, the validity of these clauses differs by region. Some areas might uphold a clause preventing an employee from joining a nearby competitor for six months. Yet, a five-year, nationwide restriction could be seen as excessive.

In certain regions, non-compete clauses face scrutiny and may be unenforceable unless they adhere to strict standards. The main issue is they might unjustly restrict an individual’s career prospects.

Additionally, employees with medical conditions or disabilities are entitled to work accommodations. Employers should offer suitable adjustments to help these employees, unless it causes significant business disruption.

Can an Employee Get Compensated if They Get Fired for Work Restrictions?

Work restrictions, often due to medical conditions or disabilities, can complicate employment. When an employee faces termination because of these restrictions, concerns about legality and compensation emerge.

Labor laws in many areas protect employees from discrimination, including that based on disabilities. Employers are typically required to offer “reasonable accommodations” to such employees unless it causes significant business disruption. For example, refusing an ergonomic chair for an employee with a back issue and then firing them might be illegal.

If an employee can’t perform even with accommodations, the employer may have grounds for termination. Yet, they must demonstrate that all accommodations were explored and the employee’s restrictions genuinely hindered their role.

If wrongfully terminated, an employee could be entitled to back pay, reinstatement, emotional distress compensation, and possibly punitive damages. The employer might also cover legal costs. However, if the termination is lawful, the employee may still receive standard severance, based on their contract and local laws.

Both parties should understand their rights in these scenarios. Seeking advice from legal or labor experts ensures decisions are ethically and legally sound.

What is Wrongful Termination?

Wrongful termination refers to when an employee is dismissed from their job for illegal reasons or in violation of employment agreements.

This can encompass a range of circumstances, from firing due to discriminatory reasons such as race, gender, age, or disability, to retaliation for whistleblowing or asserting one’s rights, like requesting medical leave.

Additionally, if an employer doesn’t adhere to their own established termination procedures or violates terms set out in an employment contract, it can also be grounds for a wrongful termination claim.

It’s crucial for both employers and employees to be well-versed in local labor laws and any contractual obligations. Employees who believe they’ve been wrongfully terminated may be entitled to remedies, including compensation or reinstatement.

Conversely, employers found guilty of wrongful termination can face legal repercussions and damage to their reputation.

Wrongful Termination Based on Discrimination

Wrongful termination based on discrimination happens when an employee’s dismissal is rooted in biases against specific attributes. These attributes include:

  • Race
  • Gender
  • Age
  • Disability
  • Religion
  • Sexual Orientation
  • National Origin
  • Pregnancy

Such dismissals are not only unethical but also illegal in many jurisdictions. Discriminatory firings go against the principle of equal opportunity in the workplace.

Victims can seek legal remedies, including compensation and reinstatement. Conversely, guilty employers may face penalties, legal consequences, and significant reputational harm. Ensuring a bias-free workplace is crucial for businesses to maintain trust and integrity.

How Do You Prove Wrongful Termination?

Proving wrongful termination requires gathering substantial evidence to demonstrate the dismissal was unjust or illegal. Key steps include:

  • Document Everything: Maintain records of all communications, performance reviews, and any incidents leading up to the termination.
  • Witness Statements: Colleagues or supervisors who can attest to the circumstances can be invaluable.
  • Employment Contract: Highlight any breached terms or conditions.
  • Company Policies: Compare the termination process with the company’s established procedures.
  • Legal Counsel: Engage an employment attorney to guide the process and ensure all relevant evidence is presented. By methodically building a case, employees can effectively challenge and potentially reverse unjust terminations.

Can You Be Fired Without Notice?

In many states, employment is considered “at-will,” meaning either the employer or the employee can end the employment relationship at any time, for any reason, with or without notice.

However, even in “at-will” jurisdictions, there are exceptions. Employers cannot terminate employees for discriminatory reasons, in retaliation for whistleblowing, or for exercising their legal rights, such as taking medical leave.

On the other hand, some employment contracts stipulate a notice period, which mandates that either party wishing to terminate the relationship must provide advance notice, often ranging from a few weeks to several months. If an employer breaches this term, they might be liable for damages, typically equivalent to the wages the employee would have earned during the notice period.

There are also scenarios where immediate dismissal is deemed appropriate, often termed “for cause” terminations. These can arise from severe misconduct, such as theft, fraud, harassment, or other actions that breach the trust and terms of employment. In such cases, the employer may be within their rights to terminate the employee without notice.

It’s also worth noting that, in some cases, instead of providing notice, employers offer severance pay, a lump sum given to employees upon termination. This is especially common in layoffs or when the company wants to mitigate the risk of potential legal disputes.

Can You Be Fired If You Are a Contracted Worker Rather Than an Actual Employee? 

Contracted workers, often referred to as independent contractors, operate under different parameters than regular employees, and this affects the terms of their termination.

For traditional employees, protections often come from labor laws, company policies, and employment contracts. They might be entitled to benefits, severance pay, or notice periods. However, independent contractors typically don’t enjoy these same protections.

Their working relationship is governed by the terms of the contract they’ve entered into with the hiring entity.

The contract dictates the terms of the working relationship, including the grounds and process for termination. If either party wishes to end the contract, they must adhere to the stipulations laid out in that agreement. Breaching these terms can lead to legal consequences, often involving compensation for the aggrieved party.

However, it’s essential to note that just because someone is labeled an “independent contractor” doesn’t mean they are legally recognized as such.

In some cases, employers misclassify workers to avoid providing benefits or other protections. If a so-called contractor works exclusively for one company, uses company equipment, and operates under company supervision, they might legally be considered an employee, regardless of their official title.

If an independent contractor feels they’ve been wrongfully terminated or that their contract has been breached, they should review the terms of their agreement. Legal recourse might be available, especially if the hiring entity didn’t adhere to the contract’s terms.

What Should Someone Do If They Are Wrongfully Terminated?

First, it’s essential to remain calm and professional, even if the situation is emotionally charged. Avoid confrontations or burning bridges, as this can complicate matters later.

Next, gather all relevant documentation.

This includes employment contracts, performance reviews, email correspondence, and any other records that might shed light on the reason for termination. These documents can serve as evidence if legal action becomes necessary.

It’s also wise to consult with colleagues or supervisors who might be willing to provide witness statements or attest to the circumstances of the termination. Their insights can be invaluable in building a case.

Seeking legal counsel is often a prudent step. An employment attorney can provide guidance on the viability of a wrongful termination claim, potential remedies, and the best course of action. They can also help navigate the complexities of labor laws and ensure all relevant evidence is presented effectively.

Lastly, consider filing a complaint with the appropriate labor board or agency in your jurisdiction. They can investigate the claim, mediate between parties, and, if necessary, impose penalties on employers found guilty of wrongful termination.

Can You Sue Your Employer Over Wrongful Termination?

Yes, you can sue your employer over wrongful termination.

If you believe you’ve been dismissed from your job for illegal reasons or in violation of employment agreements, legal recourse is available. The foundation for such a lawsuit often rests on proving that the termination was discriminatory, retaliatory, or breached an employment contract.

Discriminatory reasons can include firing based on race, gender, age, disability, religion, or other protected categories. Retaliation might involve dismissal after whistleblowing or asserting workplace rights.

Before initiating a lawsuit, it’s essential to gather all pertinent documentation, such as employment contracts, performance reviews, and any correspondence related to the termination. This evidence can strengthen your case.

Consulting with an employment attorney is crucial. They can assess the merits of your case, guide you through the legal process, and represent you in court. Additionally, there might be prerequisites before filing a lawsuit, like lodging a complaint with a labor board or agency.

If successful, remedies can range from reinstatement and back pay to compensatory damages for emotional distress. However, it’s worth noting that legal proceedings can be lengthy and costly, so weighing the potential benefits against the costs is vital.

Can You Collect Unemployment Benefits If You Get Fired?

If you get fired, collecting unemployment benefits isn’t automatically a given.

Eligibility hinges on the circumstances of the termination. Generally, if you’re let go due to reasons beyond your control, like company downsizing or layoffs, you’re likely eligible for unemployment benefits. However, if the termination is “for cause,” such as misconduct or violation of company policies, you might be disqualified from receiving these benefits.

And that is true even if you were also on modified duty due to a work injury.

The specific criteria for eligibility vary by state or jurisdiction. Typically, the unemployment agency will assess the reason for termination, ensuring it wasn’t due to a fault of the employee. If an employer challenges your claim, stating you were fired for cause, the agency might investigate further, potentially seeking statements from both you and the employer.

It’s essential to apply for unemployment benefits promptly after termination and provide accurate information. Misrepresentation can lead to denial of benefits or even legal consequences. If denied, most jurisdictions offer an appeals process, allowing you to challenge the decision.

If You Are Suing Your Employer for Wrongful Termination, Can You Work Somewhere Else?

Certainly, if you’re suing your employer for wrongful termination, you’re not barred from seeking employment elsewhere.

In fact, many legal systems encourage individuals to mitigate their damages, which means actively looking for a new job to offset the lost wages from the termination. If you secure a new position, it doesn’t invalidate your claim against your former employer.

However, any income you earn from the new job might be considered when calculating potential damages, especially if you’re seeking lost wages. For instance, if you were unemployed for three months but then found a new job at a similar pay rate, you might be entitled to three months of lost wages from your former employer.

It’s also worth noting that being proactive in seeking new employment can reflect positively on you during legal proceedings. It demonstrates a commitment to mitigating damages and moving forward.

Always keep detailed records of your job search efforts and any employment offers or rejections. This documentation can be crucial if your former employer challenges the extent of your claimed damages.

Final Thoughts

The matter of whether one can be fired for work restrictions is a multifaceted issue that depends on several factors.

As we’ve explored, employers are not universally bound to provide light-duty work for employees with restrictions, especially if those restrictions stem from non-work-related injuries. However, when such accommodations are offered, it’s imperative that both parties act in good faith to facilitate a smooth transition.

While the prospect of returning to work under restrictions may seem daunting, it’s crucial to heed the advice of medical professionals to avoid exacerbating injuries. Your health and well-being should always be a top priority.

In cases where work restrictions are linked to a prior work-related injury, the situation becomes more intricate. Employers must tread carefully to avoid potential liabilities, and seeking legal counsel might be your best course of action to ensure your rights and entitlements are upheld.

Remember, navigating the realm of worker’s compensation and employment law can be complex. It’s advisable not to go it alone. Consulting with an experienced attorney can provide invaluable guidance and potentially unlock additional benefits you may be entitled to.

In situations involving non-work-related injuries, filing for unemployment while you recover and search for a new job is often the most practical option. Ultimately, understanding your rights and responsibilities is essential, and seeking professional advice when needed can help you navigate this challenging terrain with confidence and clarity.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you be fired while on light duty?

Employees can be legally terminated while on light duty if the reasons are valid, such as poor performance, rule violations, or excessive absenteeism.

Employers aren’t obligated to provide light-duty work, which may not be feasible in some cases, like when a person’s injury prevents any work in another department. Both parties must act in good faith when offered, and employees can’t misuse restrictions to avoid responsibilities or hinder productivity.

However, there might be cases where employers act in bad faith, using strenuous light-duty tasks as a pretext for termination. In at-will employment states, it’s challenging to prove employer wrongdoing, as they can terminate for any reason.

Do you think one can get fired for gossiping at work?

The answer might surprise you. Check it out in a recent article of mine. While gossip may seem harmless, it can absolutely get you fired under certain circumstances.

Just click the link to read it on my site.

What happens if my employer cannot accommodate my work restrictions?

Employers should, but aren’t obligated to, accommodate non-work-related restrictions.

Some may offer light-duty work, guided by your doctor’s advice to avoid exacerbating injuries. Staying home to recover and collecting temporary disability benefits might be safer.

If a work injury recurs due to employer negligence, it becomes a work-related issue.

In such cases, consult an attorney for tailored guidance on complex workers’ compensation matters. Worker’s compensation law is intricate, and legal support is crucial.

For non-work-related injuries, filing for unemployment while healing and job hunting is the primary option.

But, unemployment benefits are primarily to compensate an employee for being unfairly terminated or laid off. A non-work injury that an employer could not or would not offer modified duty for is unlikely to get unemployment benefits approved.

Can I be fired while on workers’ compensation?

One can be fired while on workers’ compensation. However, it cannot be related to the workers’ compensation claim. The employer would have to prove the termination was due to poor work performance or a policy violation unrelated to the injury.

And, in “at-will” states, one’s employment can be terminated for any reason. But when in doubt about your workers’ compensation benefits, always consult a workers’ compensation attorney.

Consider that the following are valid reasons why you could get the pink slip even while your worker’s comp claim is on.

  • Poor work performance
  • Company financial problems
  • Company restructuring
  • Any other legal reason

So, while an employer can’t terminate your employment because you made a workers compensation claim, they can terminate your employment during your worker’s compensation claim.

Just as you can decide to resign from your job at any time and for any reason. In “at-will” states, the employer can also terminate your employment for any legal reason or no reason at all.

So, can an employee with a bad attitude be fired?

In a recent article, I explained that they can, and I outlined exactly how employers do it and what red flags they look for. Just click the link to read it on my site.

What is considered a disability under the EEOC?

According to the EEOC, a person has a disability if they can show that they have a physical or mental condition that substantially limits activities such as walking, seeing, hearing, learning, or the operation of a bodily function.


The EEOC stands for Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. It also includes having a history of a disability such as cancer that is in remission or an adverse employment action resulting in a physical or mental impairment lasting or expected to last 6 months or less.

A key point to note is that the impairment must be substantial, it can’t be minor.

To be considered as a disability, you must have a record of or be regarded as having such physical or mental impairment that limits a major life activity.

The ADA also covers situations where the impairment is perceived by others. As you know, a mental impairment may not easily be perceived by the one who has it. On its website, COVID-19 is recognized as a disability that an employer may be required to make accommodations for.

Are there circumstances where an employee can be fired over the phone?

Check out a recent article of mine to find out the answer. While it’s never ideal for an employer to handle any disciplinary actions over the phone or via email, there’s 1 time where it’s unavoidable.

Just click the link to read it on my site.

Of course, the EEOC protects a wide variety of conditions such as:

  • An individual’s race
  • color
  • National origin
  • Religion
  • Sex (including sexual orientation, pregnancy, and gender identity)
  • Age
  • Disability
  • Genetic information

Can the Medical Leave Act prevent an employer from firing an injured worker?

The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 comes from the U.S. Department of Labor.

It allows “eligible employees of covered employers to take unpaid, job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons with continuation of group health insurance coverage under the same terms and conditions as if the employee had not taken leave.” (source)

Of the list of eligible reasons, the one that relates to an outside of work injury is: “a serious health condition that makes the employee unable to perform the essential functions of his or her job”.

Now it’s important to note that the law says “health condition” and not “injury”.

Still an employer may grant it, even if it’s not exactly a medical condition. The leave allows for up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave. At the end of those 12 weeks, you would have to return to work or be fired unless other additional leave options are available.

But it’s also important to point out that not every employer is a “covered employer”.

Those specific reasons are:

  • The employer has 50 or more employees within a 75-mile radius
  • You have to have worked for the employer for at least 12 months (so if it’s a new job, you aren’t covered)
  • You have to have worked at least 1250 hours in those 12 months

When in doubt, talk to the HR department at your place of employment.

How does the disabilities act help injured workers?

This refers to the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. Essentially, it was created to prevent employers from discriminating against employees with specific disabilities.

Who exactly is covered under the ADA?

a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits major life activities; has a record of such an impairment; or is regarded as having such an impairment. Major life activities mean functions such as caring for one’s self, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, and working.” (source)

So what does that mean exactly?

Really it means if you have a minor and temporary injury that limits your ability to do certain tasks right now, you probably aren’t covered under the ADA.

But always check with a labor law attorney or the HR department at your employer’s office to verify. I am not a lawyer nor am I an HR professional.

Do employees’ rights change in a labor union?

Yes. You may have different rights if you are part of a labor union and that labor union has a collective bargaining agreement with your employer.

In that case, there may be specific agreements outside of Federal or local governments that dictate what happens when an employee is injured outside of the workplace and is not able to completely fulfill the job duties of their normal position.

In these cases, always consult with your union rep for clarification.

I need to state that while I have decades of experience hiring, firing, and leading thousands of people, I am not a labor law attorney, nor am I qualified to offer professional or legal advice. I am also not familiar with the laws in every state and country. If you need professional or legal advice, you should seek out a qualified individual in your area.

Jeff Campbell