Construction workers face immense risks in the course of their daily work. From working with heavy equipment and massive commercial motor vehicles, to falls, falling objects, power saws, and electrical hazards and the many other moving parts and people present on worksites, an abundance of risks cause many laborers to suffer serious injuries in a range of construction accidents.
Fortunately, New York has laws which protect the rights of workers injured on the job, and provides them with opportunities to obtain needed compensation. That includes both workers’ compensation and, in some cases, civil personal injury lawsuits:
- Workers’ Compensation Claims: Workers’ compensation is a form of insurance which covers medical expenses and provides wage supplementation and benefits for injuries and disability arising from workplace accidents. Injured workers may collect workers’ comp benefits through the workers’ compensation insurance carrier for their employer regardless of who is at fault for their accidents, and they do so in lieu of being able to sue their employer.
- Civil Personal Injury Lawsuits: Though victims injured on the job typically have a right to workers’ comp, there are also times when it they can pursue personal injury lawsuits against people or companies other than their employers or coworkers. As civil claims (or “torts”), these suits require victims to prove their damages were caused by another’s negligence or violations of law, such as a general contractor or owner on a construction site, a premises owner that failed to address a dangerous condition, or a product manufacturer responsible for a defective product. Civil lawsuits allow victims to recover compensation for damages otherwise unavailable or insufficient through workers’ comp, including non-economic damages for pain and suffering and more substantial earnings and benefits losses.
Workers injured in construction accidents can suffer serious injuries which render them totally and permanently disabled, at which point benefits provided through workers compensation (as well as a recovery made in any civil lawsuit, if applicable) will help them recover past losses and pay for future needs.
Other workers, however, may suffer injuries which leave them with partial and/or temporary disabilities. In such cases, these workers may return to work when they have recovered, or may be able to perform some other type of work. Many times, these workers may return to work for their same employers. While securing benefits and compensation for their accidents is as equally important to these workers (and to their families), it is this group of workers who may fear adverse actions from their employer – including termination in response to bringing a workers’ compensation claim or a lawsuit.
New York Wrongful Termination: When Can Employers Fire Workers?
New York is considered an “employment a-will” state, meaning unless a contract stipulates otherwise, an employer may fire employees at any time, for any reason, or for no reason whatsoever. Even if an employer’s decision to fire a worker may seem unfair or even immoral, it is not necessarily unlawful.
Of course, there are some critical exceptions, including:
- Discrimination: Employers cannot fire employees for discriminatory reasons protected under state or federal laws. Per federal laws under the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII), the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), it is unlawful for employers to terminate workers based on their age, race, religion, national origin, disability, or gender. Under the New York Human Rights Law (NYHRL) and the New York City Human Rights Law, employers are also barred from discriminatory actions based on sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, military status, sexual harassment, and citizenship status, among other protected classes.
- FMLA: If your employer is covered by the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), you are entitled to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave following an injury or illness (or to take care of a close family member with a serious injury or illness). Your employer cannot fire you while you are on FMLA leave.
- Sexual Harassment: New York State and NYC Hum Rights Laws explicitly prohibit sexual harassment, sexual discrimination, and retaliation for reporting such conduct.
- Whistleblower Protections: State and federal laws protect works who assist in whistleblower (or “qui tam”) actions. Employers cannot fire workers for reporting corruption, crimes against the government (i.e. False Claims from a government contractor), or other wrongdoing.
- Contract Breaches: Although New York is an “at-will” state, it protects employees from breaches of contracts and collective bargaining agreements. If these exist in employment contracts, employers who violate terms employment termination – including terms regarding duration, specific processes, or technical notice requirements – they may face legal action.
Employer Retaliation: Can My Boss Fire Me Because I Filed a Construction Injury Lawsuit?
In addition to those mentioned above, state and federal employment laws provide other employee protections against wrongful termination. Some of the most important concern employment terminations as a form of retaliation:
Generally, employers are prohibited from:
- Firing employees because of their injury or disability without making reasonable accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
- Terminating employees or taking adverse actions against them because they have filed for workers’ compensation or disability benefits, or because they testified before the Workers’ Compensation Board.
- Terminating or taking adverse actions against employees for other reasons, such as firing an employee who reported discrimination, wrongful conduct, violations of NY Labor Law, wage and hour regulations under FLSA, or workplace regulations enforced by OSHA.
Although employees in the construction industry are protected from retaliation by an employer, it does not mean that termination, or another adverse employment action won’t happen. It is not uncommon for employers to fire an employee with a pending injury lawsuit on the basis of some other cited reason (such as the worker’s performance), or for employers to indirectly force workers to quit by creating hostile and intolerable working conditions.
Although every case is different, these actions may constitute retaliation. If they do, employers may be held accountable for penalties and any damages workers suffered as a result of their actions.
Construction Accident Attorneys Serving New York City
Because it can be difficult to determine when an employer oversteps the laws by which they are bound – and because securing full and fair compensation while protecting your rights as an employee are so important – working with proven attorneys is of the utmost importance. It is also important to preserve any documentation and records that may indicate an employer’s basis for termination or adverse actions, as they may serve as critical evidence for any potential claim.
At The Perecman Firm, P.L.L.C., our lawyers have become known for advocating on behalf of construction workers, union members, and laborers throughout New York City and the state of New York. If you have been injured in a construction accident and would like more information about your rights, contact us online or call (212) 577-9325 for a free consultation.