The Iowa Supreme Court ruled today that discharging an employee for aiding injured employees in claiming worker’s compensation benefits is not unlawful. At-will employees may be terminated for any lawful reason. One unlawful reason Iowa recognizes is discharging an employee for pursuing worker’s compensation benefits. In this case, the supreme court was to determine whether that exception should be broadened.
In this situation Ballalatak was not the injured employee. Ballaltak was the supervisor of two employees who had been injured on the job. When Ballalatak inquired as to whether the employer was lawfully handling the worker’s compensation claims of two injured employees he was terminated. Ballalatak argued that the pursuit of worker’s compensation benefits exception should extend to employees who attempt to help the injured employee receive worker’s compensation benefits. He pointed to Iowa’s OSHA laws and regulations, wage payment collection actions, and discrimination laws to support his claim. The Supreme Court disagreed. In each of the noted statutes, there is clear language that prevents employers from retaliating against other employees who assist or participate in a proceeding or action brought by the injured employee. Iowa’s worker’s compensation laws and regulations have no such express policy. The public policy protection found in Iowa’s worker’s compensation statutes protects the injured employee, but does not extend to those who assist the injured employee.
Although Ballalatak was doing something presumably commendable—assisting injured employees in assuring their rights were not being trampled upon—Ballalatak was not wrongfully discharged. This case is an example of the court’s unwillingness to deviate from the at-will employment structure and the difficulty in proving wrongful termination.