Medical leave is when an employee takes a leave of absence to handle health conditions that can range across a wide number of conditions, including an employee’s own individual health to needing to help out a family member with their own health.
And under certain federal regulations, employees are entitled to the protected right to take protected medical leave. So, when it comes to taking family and medical leave as an employee, the question of whether or not your employer can terminate you while you are on leave can arise.
Below, we answer the question of whether or not your employer is able to terminate an employee on medical leave or not.
Disclaimer: The following is not intended as legal advice. It is general information meant to inform.
What is the Family and Medical Leave Act?
First off, it’s important to note that the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a federal-level act that “entitles eligible employees of covered employers to take unpaid, job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons with continuation of group health insurance coverage under the same terms and conditions as if the employee had not taken leave.”
This essentially means that eligible employees are able to take unpaid, job-protected leave for both family and medical reasons. There are relevant steps that employees need to take before they can take their medical leave, such as providing their employer with 30-day notice of medical leave if they are able to or as soon as possible.
The FMLA provides employees with 12 weeks of unpaid leave from employment within a 12-month time period for several reasons which include:
- The birth of a child and the subsequent care of that newborn child
- A serious health condition that leaves an employee unable to perform the essential functions of their job
- To care for the individual’s parent, spouse, or child who has a serious health condition
The FMLA also only applies to certain employers, which is important to take note of. Employers must meet certain criteria. For example, a covered employer under the FMLA may be a public agency, including local, state, or federal government agencies, regardless of the number of employees it has.
Is Terminating Employees on Medical Leave Possible?
The answer here is yes and no. FMLA leave is job-protected, meaning that you can apply for and take medical leave with the expectation that your role will be waiting for you when you return. But in general, an employer does still retain the freedom to make their own firing and hiring decisions – so long as they are lawfully made.
In some cases, an employee can be terminated after they take medical leave. Some scenarios where an employee may be legally terminated, even while they are on FMLA leave, can include:
- Misconduct in the workplace
- Fraud was committed by the employee
- If an employee failed to apply for approved FMLA leave
- Being let go due to poor performance – either before, after, or during the FMLA leave
The above are lawful reasons that an employer may decide to terminate an employee for. Terminating employees on medical leave must be for legitimate reasons, not based on retaliation or discriminatory actions.
And let’s keep in mind that there are situations where an employer cannot terminate an employee who has taken medical leave. FMLA leave is a federally protected right for eligible employees. If an employee requests FMLA leave, their employer cannot terminate them for requesting that leave.
That reasoning behind termination would be considered retaliation, and that is an unlawful termination reason.
Some employers do take extra steps to try and mask their termination of employees on medical leave behind other decisions, such as poor performance or misconduct. If you suspect that your employer is attempting to do this, you may want to reach out to a wrongful termination lawyer for assistance.
What Should I Do if I Have Been Terminated on Medical Leave?
If you have been terminated for requesting or taking medical leave, there are steps you can take to help protect yourself.
- Keep records of any important information related to your medical leave and termination. This includes emails, text messages, your employment contract, your FMLA leave paperwork, and any other communication that you think is relevant. Also, retain contact information for any eyewitnesses.
- Write out your version of events. This can help to keep the event details clear before you forget anything of importance.
- Try your best to stay calm. Wrongful termination is a stressful situation but remaining calm can help you sort through the situation better.
- Connect with a wrongful termination lawyer. A lawyer will be able to look over the details of your case, provide you with legal advice, and help determine the next steps.
Coffman Legal, LLC is a law firm based in Columbus, Ohio. With a specialization in employment law, their team of experienced Columbus, Ohio employment attorneys works to provide clients throughout the state with legal representation. They handle a variety of cases that range from wage and hour, discrimination, and severance negotiation, to Family and Medical Leave Act cases across all industries. They take a proactive approach to protecting workers’ rights as they guide you through the legal process. They offer free, confidential consultations.