When you take leave from work due to an illness or medical condition, you’re probably expecting that you’ll be able to return to your position as soon as you’re able. When employers abide by the California labor code, this is exactly what happens. However, in other instances, CA employers will wrongfully terminate workers due to their sick leave.
If your employer has fired you because you took sick leave, this is a direct violation of the California labor code. Whenever an employer in California violates this code, you have the right to pursue legal action against them through a wrongful termination claim and receive compensation for your losses. Learn more about your rights below, then contact the Law Offices of Corbett H. Williams to discuss your case.
According to the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), it is not acceptable for employers to fire their workers for taking sick leave. The FMLA is a federal act that permits workers to take up to twelve weeks of unpaid leave if they have worked for a minimum of twelve months, have worked for at least 1,250 hours during this period, and if their employer employs 50 or more workers in a 75-mile radius of the workplace.
In the state of California, most workers are what is known as “at-will” employees. This essentially means that it is permissible for their employer to fire them at any time for nearly any reason with or without an explanation. However, there are important exceptions to the rules of at-will employment, and it is illegal for workers to be fired for taking sick leave.
If an employee (federally or in the state of California) is incapacitated due to a serious medical condition, and this is directly responsible for their inability to work, then they are protected under the FMLA. In a similar vein, if the worker is absent because they’re caring for a family member with a serious medical condition or impairment, this leave of absence would also be protected under FMLA.
Under FMLA, serious health conditions fall into one or more of the following categories:
- The employee is receiving inpatient care at a facility such as a hospital, residential medical care facility, or hospice.
- The employee has been incapacitated for over three calendar days while receiving treatment from a medical care professional.
- The employee has missed work due to pregnancy or prenatal care.
- The employee missed work because they were receiving treatment for a serious health condition.
- The employee has been permanently incapacitated (or incapacitated in the long-term) due to a condition that can’t be effectively treated (such as a terminal illness).
- The employee was recently in an accident or has a medical condition that has caused them to require multiple restorative treatments, and if this condition was not treated, the employee would require over three calendar days of absence.
Although a limited number of exceptions exist, in general, any California worker has the right to be reinstated to the same position or a comparable position after they’ve missed work for an FMLA-protected reason. This worker cannot be punished for taking leave and is expected to receive the same wages, benefits (including health insurance), working conditions, and work status upon their return.
If a worker’s leave is not protected by the FMLA because they do not meet the required number of working hours or their employer has a staff of fewer than fifty people, they may still be protected by the California Family Rights Act (CFRA). This act requires any California employer with five or more workers to provide twelve weeks of protected, unpaid leave for every year of work and covers the following:
- The employee has a serious health condition.
- The employee must care for a child, grandchild, spouse, registered domestic partner, parent, grandparent, or sibling with a serious health condition.
- The employee wants to bond with a new child during the twelve months after childbirth, adoption, or placement for foster care.
- The employee wants to spend time with a spouse who serves in the military and is on short-term leave from deployment.
According to California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), employers must also provide “reasonable accommodations” for workers with disabilities. These accommodations are meant to prevent disabled workers from experiencing undue hardship and often cover leaves of absence. The FEHA applies to employers with five or more workers, while the ADA applies to employers with fifteen or more workers.
Finally, workers who take sick leave due to pregnancy are protected by the Pregnancy Disability Leave Act (PDLA). This act requires employers with five or more workers to provide up to four months of leave for any medical condition or disability associated with pregnancy, such as morning sickness, pregnancy-related hypertension, gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, post-partum depression, or other issues that cause a pregnant worker to need bed rest.
Can I Sue My Employer for Wrongful Termination in California?
If your California employer fires you for any absences that are protected by law, then you have the right to file a wrongful termination claim against them. This is the case for any at-will employees, which covers most workers within the state. However, if you are not considered an at-will employee, the process of filing a claim against your employer for wrongful termination can be more complex. If you have a written job contract that outlines the conditions of your CA employment (including the duration of the contract), it’s possible that you can enforce the terms of this contract in court, but it’s crucial that you hire a knowledgeable wrongful termination attorney to support your claim.
In other cases, you may have an implied contract in place rather than a written contract. An implied contract refers to an unspoken understanding that your employer will not fire you without good cause. This effectively refutes any claim of at-will employment. Proving wrongful termination with an implied contract can be difficult, so hire an attorney right away. The court will review the conduct of your employer to determine if you had such a contract by evaluating certain factors of your employment, including:
If your employer fires you for a reason that violates the FMLA, the CFRA, the Americans with Disabilities Act, or any other federal or California state laws, then this would be considered unlawful or wrongful termination.
However, there are other forms of wrongful termination in California beyond FMLA violations. For example, if an employee faces discrimination due to reporting sexual harassment, or if an employee faces discrimination and is fired due to their sexual orientation, this would also be considered wrongful termination. Similarly, any other firings that occur based on protected characteristics (such as race, gender, disability, national origin, and others) will be deemed unlawful, and that worker will have the right to pursue legal action for wrongful termination.
What Should I Do After Being Wrongfully Terminated in California?
To protect your rights after you are wrongfully terminated for taking sick leave, it’s important that you take several key steps as soon as possible:
- File Your Claim Right Away.
When it comes to wrongful termination claims, time is of the essence. After you’ve been fired, you have 21 days to consider the severance package your employer may have offered you. Then, you have one week to change your mind about this decision.
- Document Everything.
After you’ve been wrongfully fired from your job, it’s in your best interest to document as much as possible about the situation. For instance, if you were absent from work because you were receiving medical treatment, your claim can include official documentation stating that you received this necessary treatment.
- Hire a Wrongful Termination Lawyer.
For the best chance of success in your wrongful termination claim, it’s important to employ the legal services of a California wrongful termination attorney. Many wrongful termination cases are highly complex, and without the experience and legal knowledge of a lawyer, these claims can be difficult to resolve.
- Avoid Social Media.
Do not mention your firing on social media platforms. It’s possible that the lawyer your employer hires will attempt to use what you’ve posted against you in their defense against your claim. To be safe, it’s in your best interest not to make any posts of this nature in the first place.
Have You Experienced Orange County Wrongful Termination After Taking Sick Leave?
When a California worker takes medical leave from work, they should never have to worry about being fired from their job. If you are unsure whether your firing qualifies as wrongful termination, your next move should be to get in contact with a California wrongful termination attorney as soon as possible. The Law Offices of Corbett H. Williams can help you determine if you have a valid claim against your employer for wrongfully terminating you, guide you through each step of the filing process, and obtain the best outcome in your case. Contact us today to schedule a consultation with our firm.
If you believe you have a legitimate claim of workplace retaliation, Corbett H. Williams is fully prepared to fight for any compensation you rightfully deserve. Cases dealing with unfair workplace actions may seem daunting, but Corbett has had experience with both sides of these issues and knows how to handle these types of cases. Don’t hesitate to call the office at 877-304-7066 to schedule a free case analysis.