Dear Mrs Macaulay,
I'm 19 years old and I'm currently working. While on the job, I was badly burned after carrying some soup. Two days after noticing the burn I went to the doctor to get some medication. He advised that I was in no condition to handle food as my hand would start stripping. He gave me sick leave and a prescription that I filled immediately after.
I returned to work the same day and gave my supervisor the sick leave. She laughed and said whether I gave her the form or not, any day I didn't come to work, they would take it out of my pay. Out of fear I went to work during my sick leave until my hand looked really bad, and I told them I could not come to work until my hand was better. I ended up getting my five days' sick leave after calling the boss, but I now have another problem. A lot of people are asking what caused such an ugly burn and are encouraging me to get a lawyer because I did not get any form of compensation. I'm afraid to speak to anyone about it because I may just lose the job. What is your advice? Do you think I should proceed with a lawyer or is it too late?
I note that you were injured at your workplace while you were engaged in your duties. You say it occurred while you were carrying some soup. However, this is insufficient information to enable me to know how it really happened, so that I can form an opinion whether it was your employer's fault or yours, or whether it was a mere accident.
Let me refer first to the fact that when you returned from the doctor with a directive that you should be on sick leave — as you were not in a condition to handle any food — your supervisor laughed and stated that the doctor's directive did not matter because they would not pay you for any day you did not turn up for work. The supervisor's conduct was, apart from showing a complete lack of sensitivity, completely wrong in fact and in law, and that person should have been reprimanded at least and sent for training or demoted. That was deplorable conduct from someone who is 'supervising' the other workers.
But do you have a cause of action against your employer? As I said, you did not relate how the soup came to so badly burn your hand, so I can only deal with possibilities.
If it really was an accident or a mishap, no one would be liable. If it was an accident caused by your own negligence, then your employer would not be liable. However, if your employer should have provided protective hand coverings for that duty and did not, then they would be liable. If it happened because of a defect in their flooring that they did not rectify, they would be liable, based even on Occupier's Liability. If it was an accident caused by another worker bumping into you, then the worker and your employer may be liable. All these possibilities may be the basis of a claim against them in court, but success would depend on your actual evidence about how it happened.
If the injury to your hand became worse because of the supervisor's wrongful conduct (however it was caused) which forced you to work with the injured hand, then, in my opinion, you have a cause of action against the supervisor and the employer for damages, in that your injury was made worse and you are left with the ugly evidence of the burn. You would need medical evidence about this having been caused by the days you had to work because of the supervisor's refusal of your sick leave application.
You should consult an attorney and outline all the details and what happened thereafter, so that you can be properly advised on whether or not you have a cause of action with a good chance of success.
I hope I have assisted you to determine your next course of action. Best wishes.
Margarette May Macaulay is an attorney-at-law, Supreme Court mediator, notary public, and women's and children's rights advocate. Send questions via e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org; or write to All Woman, 40-42 1/2 Beechwood Avenue, Kingston 5. All responses are published. Mrs Macaulay cannot provide personal responses.
The contents of this article are for informational purposes only, and must not be relied upon as an alternative to legal advice from your own attorney.