Alabama’s retaliatory discharge statute, Ala. Code § 25-5-11.1 provides a protection for employees such that they may not be terminated in retaliation for their pursuit of workers’ compensation benefits. For a number of years, the elements of a wrongful termination or retaliatory discharge claim required the injured employee to prove (1) an employment relationship, (2) an on-the-job injury, (3) knowledge on the part of the employer of the injury, and (4) subsequent termination of employment based upon the employee’s injury and filing of a workers’ compensation claim. Until recently, Alabama Courts consistently held that “solely” did not mean that the employer could not have other reasons, aside from retaliation, for firing the worker. See, e.g., Twilly v. Daubert Coated Products, Inc., 536 So. 2d 1364 (Ala. 1988). However, in Alabama Power Company v. Aldridge, 854 So. 2d 554 (Ala. 2002), the Supreme Court held the plaintiff must prove termination of employment based solely upon the employee’s on-the-job injury and the filing of a workers’ compensation claim.
Chief Justice Moore accurately predicted in his dissent in Aldridge how the majority’s decision would change the landscape in wrongful termination claims. He wrote:
“More troubling though than the majority's conclusion on the facts in this case is it’s rewriting the requirements for establishing a prima facie case of retaliatory discharge. Few employers will provide a direct causal connection between an employee's discharge and the employee's filing of a workers’ compensation claim, thus making circumstantial evidence critical in a retaliatory-discharge case. Whether that evidence proves what § 25-5-11.1 requires is a determination best left to the jury, but requiring proof of a causal connection at the initial stage of the case will keep many such cases from ever going to a jury. The statute does not demonstrate that the Legislature intended that requirement, nor does such an interpretation square with our traditional rule of construing the workers’ compensation statutes liberally.”
Aldridge, supra, 854 So. 2d at 573.
The Alabama Legislature intended to give injured workers protection from being terminated in the context of their pursuit of workers’ compensation benefits. Injured workers should not be made to choose between their jobs and medical care when they are hurt on the job.