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The Flint Journal “Ask the Attorney” Column

Q. I hurt my back on the job. My employer fired me because it said I should have not lifted a heavy weight by myself. It says it is a work policy that two people lift heavy weights together. I am still hurt and need restrictions but my workers’ comp is being denied. The comp carrier says I was fired for cause and that it doesn’t have to pay. Please help. (July 2014)

A. Workers’ compensation systems were created as no-fault systems to provide assistance to workers injured on the job regardless of fault. In exchange for guaranteed benefits, workers gave up their right to sue employers for injuries caused by an employers’ negligence. The courts ruled these systems were constitutional because there was a fair tradeoff between workers and employers. How you lifted a weight should not matter. However, in 2011, Governor Snyder and Michigan Republicans changed Michigan law to provide that if a worker is fired for fault following a work injury, the worker loses his or her right to receive weekly workers’ compensation benefits. This amendment that punishes workers, but still leaves negligent employers immune from suit violates the constitutional bargain. A similar amendment in the 1940s where workers forfeited their benefits because of faulty conduct was declared unconstitutional by the Michigan Supreme Court. You should not be disqualified from benefits. I strongly recommend that you contact us for direction and assistance regarding your rights. In addition to workers’ compensation benefits, you may also have a viable claim for retaliatory discharge.

–Attorney Robert J. MacDonald