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Can I be fired for taking medical leave?

On Behalf of | May 20, 2024 | Employment Law

Most workers do not want to take a lengthy leave of absence from their employment. After all, days when they don’t work, they likely either burn through their paid leave or are days when they don’t make any money.

Thankfully, there are certain laws in place that can help protect employees from scenarios in which their finances could fall to ruin due to a lack of income. There are two federal statutes in particular that help protect workers from career setbacks related to a medical issue outside of their control.

What laws theoretically protect workers who need to take leave because of a health challenge?

The Family and Medical Leave Act

For decades, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) has given workers an opportunity to take unpaid leave in one of three scenarios. A personal health challenge is one of those three situations. A worker can qualify for up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave provided that their employer has at least 50 other workers. The employee needs to have at least a 12-month work history with the company that includes 1,250 hours of paid employment. If a worker meets those criteria, they can ask for up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year without worrying about their employer retaliating against them for requiring time away from their job.

The Americans with Disabilities Act

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) applies in more cases than the FMLA does. If an employer has 15 or more workers, then the provisions of the ADA typically apply. Businesses generally cannot punish workers for having certain medical conditions or requesting certain accommodations to continue working despite their medical challenges. Leave is one of the accommodations that a worker might require temporarily until their condition improves.

Unfortunately, many employers have very strict rules about extended absences from work. Employees may need to know their rights and actively assert them to avoid a scenario in which their employer might discriminate against them. If someone lost their job for requesting unpaid leave while dealing with medical challenges, they may have grounds to initiate a lawsuit against their employer for violating the law. Reviewing the situation with a professional can help workers determine if an employment law violation actually occurred.

Those who have experienced disability discrimination or retaliation for taking leave appropriately could theoretically hold their employers accountable for that inappropriate conduct. Knowing the protections extended to workers is a crucial component of standing up to employer misconduct as a worker facing medical challenges.