Can I Get Fired for Taking Medical Leave?

Can I Get Fired for Taking Medical Leave

Medical leave supports employees during illness or injury. FMLA provides federal medical leave, and many states also have their own medical leave provisions. Employees may qualify for other types of medical leave.

However, many workers worry about the potential repercussions of taking state or federal medical leave, including job security. If you are considering taking medical leave, a lawyer can explain your employee rights.

You may wonder if you can get fired for taking medical leave.

If you’re facing termination or other adverse actions due to exercising your legal rights to take medical leave, seek legal advice from a skilled employment law attorney. An attorney can explain your rights, explore potential legal action, and guide you.

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Understanding Medical Leave

Medical leave provides employees with time off for health-related reasons. This period allows individuals to address personal health concerns, recover from pregnancy, illnesses, or surgeries, manage chronic conditions, or attend to family members’ medical needs. Medical leave policies vary by country, state, and employer but aim to support employees’ physical and mental well-being.

Types of Medical Leave:

  • Sick leave: Typically, short-term leave for employees to recover from illnesses, injuries, or medical procedures.
  • Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA): In the United States, this federal law provides eligible employees with up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave for specific medical and family reasons.
  • Short-term disability (STD): Provides partial income replacement for employees temporarily unable to work due to non-work-related illnesses or injuries.
  • Long-term disability (LTD): Offers extended income protection for individuals with severe, long-lasting health conditions.

Eligibility and Qualifications

Eligibility for medical leave varies depending on factors like employment status, company size, and the nature of the medical condition. Employees must typically meet specific criteria to qualify.

Documentation and Communication

Employers may require medical documentation, such as a doctor’s note, to verify the need for leave. Open and transparent communication between the employee and employer is crucial.

Laws like FMLA in the U.S. and similar legislation in other countries provide legal safeguards for employees taking medical leave, including job protection and continuation of benefits. As such, an employer cannot fire an employee simply for taking FMLA or a state-mandated form of medical leave.

Reasonable Accommodations

Employers often must make reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities, which may include granting medical leave as an accommodation.

Paid vs. Unpaid Leave

Some employers offer paid medical leave as part of their benefits package, while others provide unpaid leave as mandated by law.

Return to Work

Employees must generally provide notice before returning to work, and employers must reinstate them to their previous position or an equivalent role.

State-Specific Regulations

In addition to federal laws like FMLA, individual states may have their own regulations governing medical leave.

Employer Policies

Companies often have their own policies regarding medical leave, including procedures for requesting and documenting leave. As long as these policies don’t go against state or federal laws, companies can enact and enforce them.

Understanding medical leave is crucial for employers and employees to ensure that employees receive the necessary support during health-related challenges.

Employees need to familiarize themselves with their rights, and employers must establish clear policies that comply with legal requirements. This way, everyone can navigate medical leave with transparency and respect for the workforce’s well-being.

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

In the United States, the FMLA provides certain employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave per year. This act covers eligible employees in both the public and private sectors and applies to various health-related situations. You must meet specific criteria, such as working for a qualified employer and having worked a minimum number of hours.

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a significant piece of U.S. labor legislation that provides eligible employees with certain job protections and unpaid, job-protected leave for specific family or medical reasons.

Enacted in 1993, the FMLA aims to assist employees in balancing the demands of the workplace with their needs in dealing with severe health conditions or family responsibilities.

To receive FMLA benefits, an employee must work for a covered employer and meet certain criteria, including working for the employer for a minimum of 12 months and at least 1,250 hours during the 12 months immediately preceding the leave.

FMLA applies to public agencies, including local, state, and federal employers, as well as those in the private sector employing a minimum of 50 for at least 20 workweeks in the current or preceding calendar year.

Employers can require employees to use their accrued paid leave (such as sick or vacation days) while on FMLA leave. This is known as substitution, allowing employees to receive pay during their absence.

FMLA provides essential support for employees facing significant life events while offering employers a legal framework to manage these situations.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division administers and enforces FMLA. Employees who believe an employer violated their rights under FMLA may file a complaint with this agency.

Employer Responsibilities Under FMLA

Employers must maintain health benefits during the leave period, reinstate the employee to their original position upon return, and not interfere with the leave process. This includes refraining from retaliation or termination due to medical leave.

Qualifying Reasons for Leave

Employees may take FMLA leave for several specific reasons, including the birth and care of a newborn child, the placement of a child for adoption or foster care, the care of a spouse, child, or parent with a severe health condition, the employee’s serious health condition, and qualifying necessities due to a covered military member’s active duty status.

Permitted Duration of FMLA Leave 

Under FMLA legislation, eligible employees can take up to 12 workweeks of unpaid, job-protected leave during a 12-month period. Qualified employees with a covered military member in their family can take up to 26 workweeks of FMLA leave in a single 12-month period to take care of the service member with a severe injury or illness.

In certain situations, employees can take FMLA leave intermittently or on a reduced leave schedule, which means an employee does not take the leave all at once but in separate blocks of time. For example, if the employee or a relative receives chemotherapy treatments every other week, the employee might work every other week.

Notice and Documentation

Employees requesting FMLA leave generally must provide 30 days advance notice. In unforeseen circumstances, employees must give notice as soon as practicable. Employers may also require medical certification to support the need for leave.

Protections Against Retaliation

The law prohibits employers from interfering with, restraining, or denying the exercise of FMLA rights. Additionally, employers cannot retaliate against employees for using FMLA leave. For instance, they can fire, demote, or decrease salary or benefits because an employee exercised their legal right to take medical leave under state or federal laws.

State FMLA Laws

Some states have their own family and medical leave laws, which may provide additional protections or benefits under the law. Employers and employees should understand both federal and state-level FMLA provisions.

The Importance of Documenting Medical Leave

Clear communication with your employer about medical leave is vital. This includes providing appropriate medical documentation, adhering to company policies, and notifying your employer in advance whenever possible.

Employees must provide notice of their intent to take FMLA leave as soon as practicable, especially in unforeseen circumstances. Generally, notice should occur 30 days in advance, but if that’s not possible, employees should give it as soon as the need for leave becomes known.

Employers can request medical certification to support an employee’s need for FMLA leave. Employees should provide this certification within 15 calendar days of the employer’s request. Failure to provide certification may result in the denial of FMLA leave.

In addition, state programs similar to FMLA may have their own documentation requirements that employees must follow.

Other Types of Potential Medical Leave

FMLA or a similar state program aren’t the only options for some people who need to take a leave of absence from work.

Other options in addition to or in place of FMLA include:

  • Short-term and long-term disability leave: Many employers offer short-term and long-term disability leave as part of their benefits package. These programs provide income protection during extended periods of medical absence.
  • The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA): The ADA is another critical federal law that protects employees with disabilities. Under this act, employers must provide reasonable accommodations, which may include medical leave, to eligible employees. However, the ADA applies only to employers with 15 or more employees. 

While laws like FMLA and ADA provide essential protections, disputes may arise. Some employers may unlawfully terminate or retaliate against employees for taking medical leave. In such cases, seek legal advice promptly.

What is Wrongful Termination?

Wrongful termination occurs when you are let go from your job for an illegal reason. Even though many employees are at-will, meaning that either they or their employer can end their employment for any reason or no reason, they still receive the protection of state and federal wrongful termination laws. However, the wrongfully terminated employee must show that their firing was illegal.

If this happens, most employers will claim it was legal due to reasons such as:

  • Absenteeism/tardiness
  • Poor work performance
  • Misconduct

It should come as no surprise that most employers won’t admit they fired someone illegally. Instead, it takes the skill of a seasoned employment law attorney to bring their wrong-doings to light.

Wrongful termination claims can arise from many different types of situations, including:

  • Violations of public policy—for instance, retaliating against a worker for exercising a legal right—such as taking FMLA or state-sponsored medical leave or for whistleblowing
  • Misrepresentation or fraud—such as refusing to break the law or lying on tax documents
  • Violation of an implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing
  • Breach of an implied contract for continued employment

If any of these situations apply to you, you can have a case for wrongful termination. Meet with an experienced employment law attorney as soon as possible.

Harassment and Discrimination Illegal

Additionally, it’s against the law for employers to harass or discriminate against an employee who requests special accommodations or needs time off for medical treatments or other medically-related needs. Harassment may include rude comments or jokes about an employee’s injury, illness, or impairment.

If an employer fires, demotes, or reduces such a worker’s income compensation, their actions can constitute unlawful discrimination. The employer may have violated federal and state labor laws. If an employee or an employment attorney on their behalf can prove their termination was discriminatory, the employer will owe the worker compensation.

Alreen Haeggquist, San Diego Employment Lawyer
Alreen Haeggquist, San Diego Employment Lawyer

Medical leave is a fundamental right that provides employees the necessary support during health-related challenges. You can, unfortunately, lose your job for taking any form of medical or sick leave. However, that doesn’t mean that your employer fired you legally.

If you face termination or retaliation for taking medical leave, consult an employment law attorney in San Diego to explore your options and uphold your rights. Remember, you have the right to prioritize your health without fearing repercussions in the workplace. When employers fail to provide you with the family or medical leave you need and deserve under the law, seek legal help.



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