Fired While on Medical Leave? Learn About Your Rights!

One night, while slicing the dinner roast, you accidentally cut yourself on the palm. Your spouse rushes you to the emergency room, where you get stitches and a two-day course of antibiotics. 

Your injured hand temporarily prevents you from performing your work duties as a parts assembler at a factory. Fortunately, if you are a California employee you are eligible for the California Family Rights Act (CFRA) leave, because your California employer has over five employees and you’ve worked there at least 20 workweeks the prior calendar year. 

Outside of California, you are eligible under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) for leave if your employer has over 50 employees and you have worked there at least 12 months and accrued at least 1,250 working hours prior to going on leave.  

However, your supervisor doesn’t seem happy to learn that you’re taking medical leave. She even comments, “Must be nice to take it easy like that.”

During the 30 days following the accident, you see your doctor for follow-up examinations and treatment. You don’t hear anything from your supervisor, although you email progress reports. 

Finally, around a month after the accident, your supervisor terminates you via email, giving the reason as company restructuring. 

Is This Legal?

It depends.

The FMLA and the CFRA allows you to balance your work and family or medical needs without putting your job at risk. 

You are eligible for coverage under the California Family Rights Act for up to 12 weeks of job-protected family or medical leave during a 12-month period. Unlike the FMLA, it covers workplaces with a minimum of five employees and you must have only worked 20 workweeks in the prior calendar year.

You are eligible for coverage under the FMLA for if:

  • Your company employs at least 50 workers within a 75-mile radius of the job site.
  • You have been working there for at least 12 months.
  • You accrued at least 1,250 of working hours during the 12 months prior to going on medical leave.

Any eligible employee who takes medical leave under the FMLA or the CFRA must be reinstated to their original job or one that is comparable to the position they held before they left. 

If your supervisor fires you during medical leave or upon your return, you may have a claim for wrongful termination. However, you should speak to an employment attorney because there are cases where firing an employee on medical leave is legal. 

For example:

  • You had performance issues before taking leave.
  • The company made an unequivocal workforce reduction that applied to several employees.

It is important to note that you may be able to claim wrongful termination even if the company presents a ‘legitimate’ reason for letting you go. For example, if you came in late only a handful of times during years of employment and then fired while on leave, you may have a claim. 

What Damages Can You Receive?

If your employer wrongfully terminates you for taking medical leave, you could recover the following damages:

  • Back pay
  • Front pay (compensation for lost future wages)
  • Attorneys’ fees
  • Liquidated damages (when the employer acted in bad faith)

Are you a California worker with questions for an employment attorney?

At SW Employment Law,employment law is what we do — it’s what we’re passionate about, and it’s the sole focus of our law practice. 

We’re committed to effectively representing the rights of employees across the state of California — because we believe that everyone has the right to earn a living and provide for their family, free of unlawful discrimination and harassment. 

Our firm has won millions of dollars for employees all over California and we only take cases on contingency, which means we don’t get paid unless we win your case. Our fees come out of the court verdict or settlement with the company, so you don’t pay anything out of pocket. 


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