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?
twitter.com/MikaSpencer *** All legal actions have time limits, called statutes of limitation. If you miss the deadline for filing your claim, you will lose the opportunity to pursue your case. Please consult with an experienced employment attorney as soon as possible to better preserve your rights. *** Marilynn Mika Spencer provides information on Avvo as a service to the public, primarily when general information may be of assistance. Avvo is not an appropriate forum for an in-depth response or a detailed analysis. These comments are for information only and should not be considered legal advice. Legal advice must pertain to specific, detailed facts. No attorney-client relationship is created based on this information exchange. *** Marilynn Mika Spencer is licensed to practice law before all state and federal courts in California, and can appear before administrative agencies throughout the country. She is eligible to represent clients in other states on a pro hac vice basis. ***
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.
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.
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.