How Does Workers’ Compensation Affect Unemployment Benefits?


An employer cannot discipline, retaliate against, or fire you for filing a workers’ compensation claim. But that does not mean an injured employee has unlimited job protection if their workers’ compensation doctor has restricted them from pre-injury work. Often employers terminate injured employees because they are unable to accommodate their work restrictions. The smaller the employer, the greater the likelihood that you will be let go because the employer does not have light duty available. Those of you who work for large employers, such as AmazonWalmart or Target, may be offered a light duty position.


If you are an injured worker who has been fired, you may be considering filing for unemployment benefits with the Virginia Employment Commission (VEC). We addressed this issue in our article, Can I Collect Workers’ Compensation and Unemployment Benefits? As a general rule, we do not recommend seeking unemployment benefits while pursuing your workers’ compensation claim.


Let’s say you understand the risks but have decided to file for unemployment any way. There are some reasons to do so:



  • If your treating physician has released you to return to light duty work and you’re not under an open award for wage loss benefits, you must conduct a good faith job search to collect workers’ comp payments. The Virginia Workers’ Compensation Commission has issued Guidelines for Looking for Light Duty Work that you should follow when looking for work. These guidelines recommend that you register with the VEC. We recommend that you do so if you have been released to light duty work. Otherwise the insurance company may use your failure to do so as evidence that you did not conduct a good faith job search, though an experienced workers compensation attorney will be able to present evidence rebutting this quite easily if you otherwise looked for work.


  • If you are released to light duty work and can legitimately certify that you are able to work in a lighter exertional position following a work injury, the VEC will offer job search resources. My clients are hard working people who hate being out of work and who want to get back to providing for their families. When you register with the VEC, you’ll have access to job search resources and vocational experts who can help you find a job within your restrictions.


How Will My Workers Compensation Claim Impact My Application Unemployment Benefits?


Different standards of proof apply to claims for unemployment and workers compensation benefits in Virginia. But the two systems are interconnected. Here is how:


  • The VEC will deny your claim for unemployment benefits if your treating physician has said you are disabled from all work. To receive unemployment in Virginia, you must certify that you are ready, able, and willing to work – even if you can do only light duty work. You should still register with the VEC and get a copy of your registration and their denial of benefits. Your attorney can use this denial of unemployment benefits to help prove that you’re entitled to workers comp benefits.


  • If your doctor gave you light duty restrictions and the insurance company is disputing your entitlement to workers’ compensation, you may be entitled to unemployment benefits. Your employer can raise other defenses to your unemployment claim, such as willful misconduct, that may impact your entitlement to unemployment.


  • If you were working light duty following your work accident but were laid off or fired because your employer cannot accommodate your light duty restrictions, you can pursue unemployment benefits.


What if I Receive Unemployment Benefits, then Get Approved for Workers’ Compensation?


Because workers compensation claims can take a long time to resolve, it’s possible that you get approved for wage loss benefits after you’ve been receiving unemployment benefits for awhile. If you win workers’ compensation wage loss benefits for periods where you collected unemployment, you must pay back the unemployment benefits to the Virginia Employment Commission for any periods that overlap.


Contact Corey Pollard if you have questions about Virginia workers’ compensation. We are here to help you and your family win your case and obtain a top dollar workers compensation settlement.