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Can an Employer Fire Me When I'm on Leave?

The Guha Law Firm Jan. 2, 2024

Imagine you've been working diligently for years, dedicating countless hours to your job, and suddenly you find yourself needing to take leave. Maybe it's a family emergency, a medical issue, or a much needed personal break. But, as you prepare to step away, an unsettling question lingers in your mind: "Could I lose my job while I'm on leave?" This unnerving possibility can create a lot of stress and uncertainty. If you're in this situation and feeling anxious about your employment security, you're not alone. However, we at The Guha Law Firm work to shed light on this concern, helping you understand your rights and where you stand when your job meets your life needs. For answers to your questions and to understand your rights and options, reach out to our Orange, California, office today for support. 

Laws that Protect Leave Rights 

There are several laws in place designed to protect workers' rights to take leave. These laws establish certain conditions under which employees are entitled to leave and restrict the actions employers can take against employees on leave. 

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) 

The FMLA allows eligible employees to take unpaid, job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons. This includes birth, adoption, or foster care placement of a child, personal or family illness, or family military leave. 

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) 

The ADA prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities and may require employers to provide reasonable accommodations, which could include leave or altered work schedules. 

Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) 

The PDA stipulates that employers cannot discriminate against employees based on pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions. This includes providing reasonable accommodations, such as leave. 

California Law 

In California, there are additional protections for employees, such as the California Family Rights Act (CFRA) and the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), which provide broader protections than federal law. 

Circumstances in Which an Employer Can Terminate an Employee on Leave 

While there are robust protections in place for employees on leave, there are also specific circumstances in which an employer can legally terminate an employee who is on leave. These include: 

  • Performance or Conduct Unrelated to the Leave: If the employee was already subject to disciplinary action or termination due to poor performance or misconduct before the leave commenced, the employer can proceed with the termination. 

  • Business Necessity: If there's a compelling business necessity that can't be addressed in any other way and requires the termination of the employee. 

  • Layoffs or Downsizing: If the company is undergoing layoffs or downsizing and the employee's position is included in those being eliminated. 

  • Fraudulent Leave: If the employee fraudulently takes leave or uses leave time for purposes other than those protected by the law. 

Please note, each of these circumstances carries its own legal and practical considerations that must be evaluated carefully before proceeding with termination. Always consult with legal counsel before deciding to terminate an employee who is on leave. 

Circumstances in Which an Employer Cannot Terminate an Employee on Leave 

While there are certain conditions where termination might be legally permissible, there are also solid legal protections that prevent an employer from terminating an employee on leave under the following circumstances: 

  • Protected Leave: If the employee is on a type of leave that is legally protected, such as FMLA or ADA-related leave, it is generally unlawful for employers to terminate them during this period. 

  • Retaliation for Taking Leave: The law prohibits employers from retaliating against employees for exercising their right to take leave. This means that an employee cannot be terminated for simply choosing to take their entitled leave. 

  • Discrimination: An employer cannot terminate an employee on leave if doing so would constitute discrimination. For instance, if the termination is based on the employee's disability, gender, pregnancy status, or any other protected characteristic, it would be considered unlawful. 

  • Failure to Provide Reasonable Accommodations: Under laws like the ADA and PDA, employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations to employees who need them due to a disability or pregnancy. If an employer terminates an employee without first attempting to provide these accommodations, such action may be unlawful. 

Again, the particularities of these situations often require careful legal scrutiny. Employers should always consult with a knowledgeable attorney when considering terminating an employee who is on leave. 

What to Do If You've Been Fired While on Leave 

If you find yourself in the unfortunate situation of being terminated while on leave, it's crucial to take some immediate steps to protect your rights. 

  1. Collect All Pertinent Documentation: Gather all documents related to your employment and leave. This includes employment contracts, leave requests, communication with your employer, and any documents related to your reason for taking leave (such as medical records). 

  1. Review Your Employment Contract and Company Handbook: Understand the terms of your employment and your employer's policies on leave and termination. If there are discrepancies between your employer's actions and their policies, note them. 

  1. Contact Legal Counsel: If you believe your termination was unlawful, consult with a lawyer specializing in employment law. They can guide you through the complexities of labor laws and help you assess whether you have a viable case. 

  1. File a Complaint: If you and your lawyer decide it's the right course of action, you can file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or your state's labor board. 

  1. Be Ready for Mediation or Litigation: Depending on the circumstances, you may need to participate in mediation with your employer or even go to court. 

Remember, every situation is unique and these steps may not all apply to your particular circumstances. Therefore, it's immensely important to seek legal counsel before proceeding with any actions.  

Why Choose The Guha Law Firm? 

Navigating the complexities of employment law can be challenging, but it's crucial to ensure you're making decisions that respect your employees' rights and adhere to legal requirements. At The Guha Law Firm, we've dedicated ourselves to helping employers understand employment law. Our commitment is to provide you with the clarity and guidance you need to make informed decisions that align with both your business needs and legal obligations. 

Don't navigate this situation alone. Let us help you understand your rights and responsibilities as an employer. Reach out to us at The Guha Law Firm, serving clients throughout Orange, San Bernardino, Los Angeles, and Riverside counties. We're here to guide you every step of the way.