In many states, employers can fire employees at-will if they have frequent absences from work, and most employers have attendance requirements included in their employee handbook. If the attendance criteria is clearly indicated in the employee requirements, then you can be terminated for calling in sick and not showing up. There are situations in which your absences may be protected by state or federal employment laws. If you have a medical excuse, such as an injury that requires immediate care, or you have a health problem that has sent you to the hospital, you may have protections in place to protect you and yourr job.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), state paid sick leave laws, and workers’ compensation laws may protect you, and could make it illegal for your employer to fire you because of your health issues. You need to understand those different laws and then determine if any of them apply to your situation.
The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA)
If your medical condition qualifies as a disability per the ADA, and you are taking sick time because of that condition, you could be protected from being fired by your employer. A federal law that prohibits employers from discriminating against employees who have physical or mental impairments or disabilities that substantially limit a bodily function or life activity.
While the law does not specifically allow time off for employees, employers are required to make reasonable accommodations that will allow employees who have disabilities to properly do their jobs. However, the accommodation cannot cause an undue hardship for the employer or too much expense based on the company’s resources and size.
The Family and Medical Leave Act
The FMLA gives employees the right to take as long as 12 weeks off during a 12-month period if they are eligible to do so for any of the following reasons with supporting documentation. The FMLA applies to employers with 50 or more employees.
- To care for a new child (biological or adoptive) or
- Because an incapacitating medical condition or
- Because the employee is needed to care for a family member who is seriously ill
Additional leave is available for those who have family members called up for active military duty or who suffer serious injuries in the line of duty. According to the FMLA guidelines, a serious health condition involves inpatient care at a residential medical facility, hospital or hospice, incapacity because of prenatal care or pregnancy, incapacity of more than three full calendar days with continuous treatment provided by a medical provider, treatment or incapacity because of a serious chronic medical problem, long-term or permanent incapacity for a medical condition that treatment may not be effective for such as terminal illness, or absence for multiple treatments required after an injury or for a medical problem that would require an absence exceeding three days if treatment wasn’t received.
It is illegal to fire an employee who taking leave that is protected by the FMLA. You have a right to be reinstated to your job after your leave is over, with minimal limitations.
While workers’ compensation laws vary from one state to the next, but most employers across the country must maintain the special insurance coverage for their employees at no additional charge. Workers’ compensation offers medical benefits, pays two-thirds of lost wages, and if needed, covers vocational retraining for workers who have suffered a workplace injury or an occupational illness.
A worker can file a claim for workers’ compensation benefits regardless of who was to blame for the accident or illness just so long as it occurred while on the job. Every state has laws in place to protect workers, and these laws prohibit an employer from retaliating against an employee because he or she has filed a claim for workers’ compensation benefits.
State laws do vary, regarding whether an employer can fire someone who has an injury or illness with an open workers’ compensation claim. Some states do allow the employer to fire the employee if they are not able to wait for the employee to recover and they need to fill that job. Other states require the employer to give the worker back their job or a comparable job once they are able to work. You will need to check with your state laws or speak to an employment attorney to learn more about workers’ compensation laws where you work.
Paid Sick Leave Laws
States have enacted laws that require employers to provide paid sick leave to their employees as part of their benefits package. Some larger cities have mandated paid sick leave laws as well. If you have accrued paid sick leave through a law, you may use that sick leave without facing any negative consequences, such as being terminated from your position. In those cases, it is illegal for your employer to retaliate against you for using your accrued sick leave.
Learn More About Your Rights
If you believe that you were fired illegally because you had health issues that caused you to miss work, you should speak with an employment law attorney. Time to pursue a claim is limited, so ask for a case evaluation today!