Should I sue for workers’ compensation?


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Dear Cary,

I recently hurt myself at work and was forced to take a few months off. I received worker’s compensation but it didn’t cover my bills and I ended up burning through my savings. Still, I was happy just to have all my physical therapy paid for. Then worker’s compensation denied me any more sessions of PT despite my physical therapist and the doctor (they made me go to) insisting that I needed more.

Because of this I was forced to go back to work in order to keep up with my bills. My doctor recently appealed the decision made by worker’s comp and asked for twelve more sessions of PT. They gave me four instead. My physical therapist did not express high hopes for my speedy recovery. In addition, I’m not thrilled with how my work has handled the situation. I was a good employee. I never called in sick and I often covered for those that did. My boss has also failed to keep any of her promises to me (and other employees) pertaining to days off or what holidays we get off and I’ve always just gritted my teeth and gone to work like I was asked.

While I was stuck at home she made aggressive comments to my co-workers about how I was “on vacation” and trying to prolong coming back to work. I feel betrayed and angry. Many of my friends are pushing me to sue worker’s compensation and my work. Part of me thinks that it’s unnecessarily mean, but part of me thinks they deserve it. My injury is pretty apparent and makes my life hell. I can’t even make a bed or put on shoes easily. I’m especially frustrated because I was promised a full recovery by now from the doctor if I followed his instructions. I did everything that was asked of me that I could. What should I do?



Dear Injured,

The person you need to talk to is a workers’ compensation lawyer. I suggest you call a few and have some free brief conversations. You can pick up a lot in a free brief conversation. A lawyer won’t tell you in a brief conversation whether to sue or not. She won’t have enough facts to advise you on that. But you will learn some things. You will learn how much it would probably cost. You will learn some of the options.

It sounds like there are two issues. One is your injury. The other is how your company is handling vacation and holiday pay. If your company is cheating its employees out of money they are legally entitled to, that is a legal issue, too. But only a lawyer could advise you properly.

It would be great if you had a slam-dunk case. You probably don’t have a slam-dunk case. A slam-dunk case would be if you were in an iron lung and your boss poured hot oil on your face. Or if your boss made you wash her windows 20 stories up and you fell because she slammed the window on your hands. Or if your company has never paid any holiday pay or vacation pay to anyone, or has persisted in a blatant disregard for the rules over a long period of time after being repeatedly warned. It’s probably not like that.

It’s probably more like a gray area where the company isn’t being so great but then isn’t necessarily breaking the law either, or is breaking the law in a way that is hard to prove. Only a lawyer could tell you that.

That’s my advice about whether to sue or not. Talk to lawyers. They’re the experts.

I have some other advice, of a more general sort. I think you need to realize that you are being exploited. That’s not necessarily a terrible thing. We’re all being exploited, willingly, when we work for money. What I mean is that you represent labor in the marketplace. You are selling your labor. The exchange is market-driven, not morality-driven or ethics-driven. You are not in a personal relationship with your boss and your company, and your company does not necessarily reward you for good citizenship. This doesn’t mean that the people at your workplace are evil. They are just doing what is natural in their situation. They are maximizing their profits by minimizing the amount of money that goes out of the company.

Now, maximizing short-term profits in this way may turn out to be counterproductive in the long run. In the long run they might do better if all the employees at the company loved working there and felt that they were being treated in a way that is ethically and morally sound. But bosses and owners don’t always think that way. And even if they were treating you very well, it wouldn’t mean that your relationship is personal, ethical and moral. It would mean that they made a business decision that doing things that seem ethical and moral is better for long-term profits.

Being a good citizen is not necessarily rewarded in the workplace. Things that are rewarded in a workplace are: Making money for the company, and making your bosses feel good. Bosses will sometimes keep people around if they make them feel good even if they are not making the company a lot of money because bosses are human and don’t always go by the numbers. Conversely, bosses will sometimes keep people around who make money for the company even if they don’t like their behavior. But they don’t often keep people around and treat them well just because they are good citizens and show up on time.

That’s just something to think about.

Talk to some lawyers. It might be worth it to pay a reasonable fee to have your case reviewed in detail. At least then you would be able to make an informed decision.

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