Can A California Employee Be Fired After Getting Sick?

Updated: Jan 27

A Quick Guide To Taking Leaves, Sickness Recovery, And FMLA In California

Employees are sometimes hesitant to tell their employers they need a break for health reasons. Whether it's because of the employer's past behavior or that the employee simply isn't aware of their employment rights.

Some employers may try to fire employees who become ill or injured. Specific regulations, however, exist to safeguard employees who are confronted with these situations. If you believe you were fired because of a medical concern, you should learn about your rights.

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That said, California is one of the few states that have the most comprehensive worker protections. For example, employers in California cannot make employment reasons due to discrimination or violate state and federal laws that protect the well-being of their employees.

Discrimination Based On An Employees Medical Condition Is Prohibited In California

Your employer cannot make employment decisions—such as hiring, firing, demoting, and salary reduction—on the basis that you are sick, disabled, or temporarily incapacitated.

Even if your employment status is "at-will," where your employer can fire workers and employees can leave at any time, firing someone solely on their medical condition is still considered an illegal act in California. Sure, regular employees will have protections against breach of contract and other benefits. However, at-will employees are still protected from employment decisions that are considered violations of the law.

According to the US Department of Labor, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) mandates employers to provide medical leave to covered employees in specific circumstances. Eligible employees may take unpaid, job-protected, and health-insurance-protected leave for up to 12 workweeks during the course of a year. All covered conditions are the birth and care of a newborn or adopted child, a significant health condition, and caring for a kid, spouse, or parent with a severe health condition.

If the employee's spouse, kid, or parent was injured or ill while on "covered active" military duty, they are also protected under FMLA. In these cases, the covered employee may be entitled to 26 workweeks of leave over the course of a year.

Another element of federal legislation is the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). Employers are prohibited from discriminating against employees who have mental or physical impairments (often referred to as disabilities) that seriously limit essential living functions under the ADA. The ADA requirements might occasionally apply to medical issues that aren't disabilities.

Paid Family Leave in California

California has a tangle of overlapping family and medical leave statutes. In California, paid Family Leave (PFL) covers a portion of the salaries of qualified employees who take time off to care for qualifying family members or a newly-born child.

Other state and federal legislation, such as the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, can provide for periods of leave from work during which a worker's job is safeguarded. Still, only the state's Paid Family Leave insurance can compensate for a portion of income (for qualified employees).