IS THE DECISION GOOD OR BAD FOR WORKERS IN NASHVILLE?
The Tennessee Supreme Court, the highest court in the state, has issued a ruling and opinion that could potentially affect many people who have filed for workers’ comp in the past…and it’s not good.
The case of Yardley v. Hospital Housekeeping Systems, LLC, No M2014-01723-SC-R23-CV (Sup. Ct. Tenn. August 21, 2015) involved a housekeeper employed by a hospital who had filed a claim for workers’ compensation after an on-the-job injury. A few months later, the hospital fired all the housekeepers to enter into a contract with Hospital Housekeeping Systems, LLC (the “Company”). Part of the deal was that all the fired housekeepers that had worked in the hospital would get an interview and an opportunity to continue work for the Company to keep their jobs.
The housekeeper interviewed and disclosed that she had filed a workers’ comp claim. The Company did not hire her solely because she filed the workers’ comp claim. The housekeeper sued, and the question before the court is: Can she maintain a lawsuit against the Company for failing to hire her solely due to filing a workers’ compensation claim?
The housekeeper’s lawyers argued that allowing a company to not hire an employee solely due to a workers’ comp claim would have a chilling effect on current employees who are hurt on the job. The Company argued there was no cause of action, as Tennessee is an at-will employment state.
TN SUPREME COURT HOLDS EMPLOYERS CAN REFUSE TO HIRE BASED ON WORKERS’ COMP
Unfortunately for the workers of this state, the Tennessee Supreme Court agreed with the Company that it could refuse to hire the housekeeper solely because she filed a workers’ comp claim.
The Court noted that although it was unlawful for a company to retaliate against a current employee for filing a claim, this was not the situation here. The housekeeper was not a current employee of the Company, and the laws prohibiting retaliation for workers’ comp did not apply to prospective employees.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR EMPLOYEES NEEDING WORKERS’ COMP IN NASHVILLE?
As a law firm that handles workers’ compensation claims and appeals for people in Nashville, it is disappointing that the TN Supreme Court ruled the way it did. When workers are hurt on the job, it is absolutely necessary for them to file a claim and get the benefits they need and deserve to heal. To allow a prospective employer to reject an otherwise-qualified applicant solely based on his or her exercise of this right is simply a wrong way to treat people.
Other states have laws on the books that prohibit using workers’ compensation claims as a reason to not hire a new employee. The way to change a judicial opinion like this to protect workers in Tennessee is to ask your state representative to have the legislature pass a law to make it illegal for prospective employers to consider a worker’s comp claim in a job application.