Iowa Supreme Court Says Supervisor Is Not Protected When Protecting Injured Employees

The Iowa Supreme Court considered the firing of a supervisor, who intervened when injured workers he was supervising were not being treated fairly. In Ballalatak v. All Iowa Agriculture Association, 781 N.W. 2d 272 (Iowa 2101), filed on April 16, 2010, the Iowa Supreme Court noted that injured workers who are terminated because they pursue a workers’ compensation claim can pursue a claim against the employer for reinstatement and back pay. However, the Court refused to extend that same protection to a supervisor who advocates for employees he supervises, when he thinks that the workers were not having their workers’ compensation claims handled fairly.

The protection for workers was first recognized in 1988, in Springer v. Weeks & Leo Co., 429 N.W.2d 558, 560 (1988), based on Section 85.18 of the Iowa Code, a portion of the workers’ compensation statute, which prevents employers from using any device that serves to unfairly deprive workers of workers’ compensation benefits. The Court in Springer noted that workers have a right to pursue work injury claims, that an employer is barred from any device to deny workers’ compensation benefits, and that filing a workers’ compensation claim is protected under Section 85.18.

Mr. Ballalatak asked the Court to find that Section 85.18, or the recently developed case law in wrongful termination, protects him from retaliatory discharge as well, citing the case law protecting persons from discharge when “(1) exercising a statutory right or privilege, (2) refusing to commit an unlawful act, (3) performing a statutory obligation, and (4) reporting a statutory violation.” See Jasper v. H. Nizam, Inc., 764 N.W.2d 751, 762 (Iowa 2009).

The Iowa Supreme Court simply refused to take the leap from protecting workers who have been subjected to retaliation, to supervisors or others who have attempted to intervene. One must wonder if a co-worker who tells an adjustor something that they don’t want to hear can be terminated. Presumably, a co-worker who testifies in a hearing would have some protection from retaliation, while “performing a statutory obligation” to tell the truth, but Ballalatak may raise questions on that point.

 This blog was posted by H. Edwin Detlie. Visit http://www.detlielawfirm.com/.