Can My Employer Lower My Pay if I Work While Injured?

By Peter DePaolis

An injury at work often harms a person’s ability to make a living, which is why workers’ compensation is such an important part of our country’s employment laws. Workers’ comp helps an employee stay financially afloat while recovering from what are often very serious wounds.

An integral part of workers’ comp is an employee’s right to begin working again under “light duty.” Light duty may be the former position (or an equivalent job) that has lower physical requirements, such as a desk job. Through this, a worker can earn a living and regular income while recovering from the workplace injury or illness. However, due to a lighter workload, an employer may seek to pay lower wages, potentially putting the employee through continued financial hardship while still suffering from an injury.

Is Lower Pay After an Injury Lawful?

As with many things in the law, the answer is, it depends. If the employer lowered your wages or salary only because you claimed workers’ compensation benefits, then he or she likely broke the law. You cannot suffer retaliation simply because you were hurt on the job and applied for benefits that the law guarantees you.

It would also be unlawful if the employer paid you less because of a disability-related to your injuries if you are still able to perform the essential tasks of your former position. Employers are required to make reasonable accommodations for a disability unless doing so would cause “undue hardship” for the employer. If you are able to perform the essential functions of your job and your employer lowers your pay, such action could be considered disability discrimination.  The Americans with Disability Act and other federal laws strictly prohibit such actions.

In some cases, an employer could pay you less if you are temporarily stationed at a position that warrants a lower wage. However, the employer would have to reinstate you to your usual position and pay rate as soon as you regain the capacity to do so.

Does Workers’ Compensation Offset a Lower Wage?

Some employers may pay you a lower wage but make up the difference with workers’ comp payments. However, such arrangements may be constrained by your state’s maximum compensation rates.

If you work for your employer on a contract basis, then you should see no changes in your pay unless you draft a new agreement with your employer.

Light duty offers advantages to both you and your employer, but you must know your rights to protect yourself from unlawful action against you. If you suffered an injury, claimed workers’ compensation, and are preparing to back to work, it may be worthwhile to have a Virginia, Maryland, or Washington, D.C. injury attorney review your situation.

We will Fight for Your Rights

You have rights under the law. If you believe that your employer lowered your wage unlawfully or retaliated against you for using workers comp, you need qualified and experienced legal assistance. Contact our office today for a confidential evaluation of your case by a Virginia, Maryland, or Washington, D.C. workers comp attorney.

About the Author
Peter DePaolis joined the firm in 1980 and has since represented a large number of individuals involved in automobile collisions, truck accidents, bus crashes, defective products, and medical malpractice cases. A significant portion of Mr. DePaolis’ practice is devoted to working on behalf of people suffering from asbestosis, mesothelioma, and other asbestos-related cancers. He has led his firm’s fight against the asbestos industry and has recovered over $30 million in damages for asbestos victims and their families.