Can an Employer Fire You for Being Sick?

Dealing with an illness is stressful enough without worrying about your job security. Many employees wonder if their employer can fire them simply for being sick. The answer isn’t always straightforward, as it involves a mix of federal and state laws, as well as the specific policies of your employer. Here’s what you need to know.

Understanding Your Rights Under the Law

The first step in understanding whether you can be fired for being sick is to look at federal protections. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a key piece of legislation in this area. FMLA entitles eligible employees to take unpaid, job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons. This includes personal or family illness. To qualify, you must have worked for your employer for at least 12 months and the employer must have 50 or more employees within a 75-mile radius.

FMLA allows for up to 12 weeks of leave in a 12-month period. During this time, your employer must maintain your health benefits and, in most cases, reinstate you to your original job or an equivalent position when you return. However, not all illnesses qualify for FMLA leave, and not all employers are covered by FMLA. Therefore, it’s crucial to check if you meet the criteria.

What About State Laws?

In addition to federal laws, state laws can offer further protection. For example, in California, employees are entitled to paid sick leave under the Healthy Workplaces, Healthy Families Act of 2014. This law requires employers to provide at least 24 hours (or three days) of paid sick leave per year. Some cities within California have even more generous requirements.

California also has the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), which protects employees from discrimination based on physical or mental disability. Under FEHA, an employer must provide reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities, which could include time off for treatment or recovery.

Can My Employer Fire Me for Taking Sick Leave?

While laws like FMLA and state-specific regulations provide protections, they don’t offer blanket immunity from being fired. If you are out sick but do not qualify for FMLA or have exhausted your FMLA leave, your job may not be protected. Additionally, if you are using your sick leave in a way that is not covered by company policy or if you fail to follow the required procedures for reporting sick leave, you could be at risk.

Employers can also terminate employees for legitimate business reasons unrelated to the illness. For example, if your position is being eliminated due to a reduction in force or the company is closing, being sick does not provide immunity from these broader business decisions.

What If My Illness Is a Disability?

If your illness qualifies as a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) or state disability laws like California’s FEHA, your employer is required to provide reasonable accommodations. This might include a modified work schedule, temporary leave, or even reassignment to a different position. However, the ADA and FEHA do not require employers to keep an employee indefinitely on leave if they cannot perform the essential functions of their job, even with reasonable accommodation.

Seeking Legal Help

If you believe you have been wrongfully terminated due to illness, it is essential to consult with an employment lawyer who specializes in this area. They can help you understand your rights, evaluate whether your termination was lawful, and guide you through the process of filing a complaint or lawsuit if necessary. For those in California, an employment lawyer from Walker Law can provide expert advice and representation. They can help you navigate complex employment laws and ensure your rights are protected.

While protections exist, they are not absolute, and each case must be considered on its individual merits. If you face termination or believe your rights have been violated, seeking legal counsel is a crucial step in protecting yourself and your career.

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