Can a Company Fire You for Being Sick? Understanding Your Employment Rights

Discover whether a company can fire you for being sick and understand your rights. Waltman Employment Law provides legal insights and legal assistance to protect your employment rights.

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This question often strikes fear in the hearts of many employees. 

Sick days are a part of life, but the possibility of losing your job because of illness adds stress to an already difficult situation.

In the US, while at-will employment allows employers to terminate employees for almost any reason, federal and state laws provide protections against being fired solely for being sick. For example, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) often safeguard employees with disabilities or those who face serious health conditions, respectively. This is critical information because understanding your rights can protect you from unjust termination.

Navigating employment laws can be daunting. That’s where we come in. 

At Waltman Employment Law, we have experience in wrongful termination, defending employees’ rights, and ensuring they are treated fairly. Whether you are dealing with wrongful termination, need to understand your sick leave rights, or require legal advice, we are here to help you face these challenges head-on.

Schedule a free consultation today, and let us help you seek justice. 

Understanding Employee Rights

Being “sick” in the context of employment can refer to common illnesses, like the flu or a cold, and chronic conditions, such as diabetes or asthma. When employees fall ill, it affects their ability to work effectively and may require them to take time off. According to Cornell Law School, “sick leave” occurs “when an employee takes time off work because of an illness or injury.” 

In California, “sickness” in the workplace is broadly defined as physical or mental conditions that impede an employee’s ability to perform their job, as noted by the State of California Department of Industrial Relations. Conditions ranging from temporary ailments to chronic diseases qualify under this definition.

Moreover, employment laws in the US provide various protections. For instance, many states, including California, mandate that employers offer paid sick leave. Also, starting January 1, 2024, “employers must provide at least 40 hours or five days off each year to most workers.”  

In short, employers cannot deny an employee the right to use accrued sick leave.

You can find more information on the State of California Department of Industrial Relations’ website under “Paid Sick Leave in California.” 

Additionally, employees can use sick leave for themselves or family members; according to information shared by the US Office of Personal Management, an employee can use up to 12 weeks to care for a relative with a serious health condition. Finally, federal laws, such as the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), offer additional protections when caring for a newborn or a sick relative. 

FMLA Provisions

  • Eligibility: Employees are required to have worked for their employer for at least 12 months.
  • Coverage: Applies to private-sector employers with 50 or more employees, public agencies, and public and private schools.

More information is available on the FMLA website under Family and Medical Leave

Legal Protections Against Termination Due to Illness

Federal and state laws offer several protections for employees who fall ill. These laws ensure that employees are not unfairly terminated due to medical conditions.

For example, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) provides crucial protections. If an illness qualifies as a disability, employers are required to make reasonable accommodations. This can include modified work duties or time off for treatment.

Read more about it on ADA’s Law, Regulations & Standards site.  

State-specific laws also offer additional protections. In California, the law is particularly robust. The Healthy Workplaces/Healthy Families Act of 2014 mandates paid sick leave for employees. Additionally, according to the act, “employees, including part-time and temporary employees, will earn at least one hour of paid leave for every 30 hours worked.” 

Company Policies on Sick Leave

Company policies often vary, but they are required to comply with federal and state laws. Commonly, these policies include:

  • Paid sick leave: Some companies offer this, which aligns with state laws.
  • Unpaid sick leave: This is more common and may be used when paid leave is exhausted.
  • Accrued sick leave: Employees earn leave over time and can use it when needed.

These policies are meant to balance business needs with employee rights. Companies should communicate these policies clearly to avoid confusion and ensure compliance. Real-world scenarios demonstrate the necessity of these laws. For instance, an employee undergoing chemotherapy should receive fair treatment and accommodations under the ADA.

By understanding these various protections and policies, we can better advocate for fair treatment in the workplace.

What To Do if You Are Fired for Being Sick

If you believe you have been wrongfully terminated due to illness, it’s crucial to take immediate action.

At Waltman Employment Law, we believe it’s in an employee’s best interest to document everything, including incidents and communications with your employer about your sickness and employment status. This evidence will be useful if legal action becomes necessary. Second, we encourage you to seek legal advice promptly. 

Employment laws can be complex, and a legal professional can help you navigate your situation effectively.

Our team at Waltman Employment Law can offer valuable assistance. Whether you need a confidential consultation or representation, we are here to help. For example, understanding the differences between independent contractors and employees can also be crucial in your case.

Proving Wrongful Termination

Wrongful termination happens when a company fires an employee for illegal reasons. In the context of illness, it means being fired because of a medical condition without reasonable accommodations, and this includes mental illness; for reference, you can find a list of resolved cases by the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) under ADA on their website. 

Key Aspects of Wrongful Termination:

As stated above, to prove wrongful termination, you need strong evidence. This includes:

    1. Emails and Messages: These communications show the employer’s awareness of your health condition.
    2. Witness Statements: Accounts from coworkers who observed related events.
    3. Performance Reviews: Documents that highlight job performance prior to termination.
    4. Recorded Meetings: Audio or video that captures discussions about the termination.

    Evidence should be gathered as soon as possible. Delays can make it hard to collect necessary documents and witness statements.

    We encourage you to look at our practice areas to better understand the intricacies of wrongful termination and how a skilled lawyer can help you

    Importance of an Employment Lawyer:

    As noted by the testimonials available on our website, an employment lawyer helps us build a strong case by:

    • Analyzing the collected evidence.
    • Advising on legal strategies.
    • Representing us in court or negotiations.

    With their knowledge, you have a better chance of proving your case and getting justice.

    Trust Waltman Employment Law to Protect Your Rights During Illness

    As we mentioned, various laws protect you during times of illness. For instance, the FMLA requires employers to grant eligible employees unpaid leave for medical reasons. This can prevent unjust termination during your illness. But just in case, you can keep records of your illness and communications with your employer, familiarize yourself with laws like FMLA and ADA, and consult employment lawyers.

    You do not face these challenges alone; legal assistance can make a significant difference.

    At Waltman Employment Law, we are committed to protecting employees’ rights and have experience in employment law, as noted in our testimonial page and highlighted by Super Lawyers and Elite Lawyers

    If you believe your rights have been violated, contact Waltman Employment Law for a free consultation. We are here to help you navigate these issues and ensure fair treatment.