i was laid off suddenly and had to sign the papers in order to get my check, i had injured my back at work and had been working as such for a while, the work place has many hazards and safety violations which OSHA would find very illegal... Can I get a lawyer and file a law suit?
Employment / Labor Attorney
There are many issues raised in your short statement. First, it is illegal for an employer to require an employee to sign anything in order to get his or her final paycheck, or any paycheck. What were the papers you had to sign? What do you mean when you say you "had to" sign them?
Did you report your back injury to your employer? If so, the employer should have immediately given you a workers' compensation claim form. You should speak with one or more workers' compensation attorneys about this. You can find a workers' compensation attorney on the California Applicant Attorneys Association (CAAA) web site: http://caaa.org/cs/. CAAA is the strongest California bar association for attorneys who represent injured workers. On the home page, click on the picture of the wheelchair above the words "Injured Workers." On the next page, click on the link to “Attorney Search” on the left side. Enter your city or any other information and click “Search.”
Whether you can sue depends on what happened to you, not what exists in the workplace. For example, if you were injured due to unsafe working conditions, you probably only have a workers' compensation claim unless the employer intentionally created or allowed unsafe working conditions; then you might be able to pursue a personal injury case.
If you were fired for complaining about OSHA violations, you might have a whistleblower case and/or wrongful termination in violation of public policy case. For more information about whistleblowers and their rights, please see my Avvo guide: http://www.avvo.com/legal-guides/ugc/whistleblowers-and-their-rights?published=true
What do you mean, you were laid off "suddenly"? What happened right before you were laid off?
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1 lawyer agrees
Wrongful Termination Lawyer
It is illegal to require you to sign anything to get your check. Any such document that you had to sign in order to get your check is void, but you would have to prove that signing it was a condition of getting your check.
It is also illegal to fire someone because they've been injured at work. You didn't mention it, but it furthermore illegal to fire someone for complaining about safety violations at work.
The real issue is proof. You would have to be able to demonstrate not just that you were injured or complained about unsafe working conditions. You would have to demonstrate that one or both of those were the reasons you were fired. Timing is often enough to raise suspicion, but the employer then gets to explain its legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons for firing you. The burden will then be on you to prove that those reasons are not the real reasons, but in fact are pretext to cover up an illegal reason.
I hope this information is helpful to you.
Craig T. Byrnes
Disclaimer: Please be aware that I am not offering legal advice, nor forming an attorney-client relationship with you. I am not representing you, nor doing anything to protect your legal rights. If you believe that you have suffered a legal wrong, take action before any statute or limitations expires, or your right to do so may be lost forever. Good luck in your legal matter.
3 lawyers agree
Workers' Compensation Lawyer
Labor Code section 3600(a)(10) renders a presumption that a specific injury is not work-related if it is not reported prior to termination/lay-off. The presumption can be rebutted by showing proof of medical treatment or injury report prior to the date of lay-off. The perceived Safety/OSHA violations will do nothing to rebut the presumption.
We offer general concepts, but you should give ALL your facts to a licensed Attorney in your state before you RELY upon any legal advice.
2 lawyers agree
Workers' Compensation Lawyer
It sounds like you're saying that your employer offered you a severance package, conditioned on your signing papers agreeing to the package. If that is the case, and we're not just talking about signing some release document in order to get your final paycheck, it may very well be legal. Even then, it is unlikely that any language giving up any right to pursue a workers' compensation claim would be enforceable.
It is unclear from what you said whether you had already reported your back injury before you were notified of the layoff. If you had not, and you had not gotten some medical treatment for the injury before the layoff notice, and had not mentioned it at work, your claim may very well be barred.
Workers injured on the job in California are almost always limited to pursuing a claim for workers' compensation benefits, and cannot "file a law suit." Workers' compensation is a no fault system. You do not have to prove that your employer was at fault in order to collect benefits. However, in some instances, you may be able to pursue a claim for additional benefits if you can prove that your employer was guilty of serious and willful misconduct in causing your injury. The "hazards and safety violations" may be useful in proving such a claim. Be aware that there is a one year statute of limitations for filing a serious and willful misconduct petition. If you think this is something you wish to pursue, you should speak to an experienced workers' compensation attorney right away. You can find one through this site or at CAAA.org, an organization for attorneys who represent injured workers in California.