There are laws that are designed to protect injured workers from economic uncertainty when they have to be off work to handle an illness or an injury.
What happens, however, when your employer decides to let you go while you’re out on leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)? What happens when you’re ready to get back to work but your employer flat-out refuses to make any sort of accommodations for your new condition, making your return impossible?
Can you actually be fired while on FMLA?
Yes, you can be fired while on FMLA – but not for merely taking FMLA in the first place (nor for asking for disability accommodations when you return). Those would be retaliatory actions, and they’re wholly illegal.
You have the complete right to take a 12-week leave of absence because you need to cope with a medical condition, care for a family member with a condition or to take care of your newborn. Most people are able to take FMLA leave without worrying whether their job is safe.
Generally speaking, you cannot be fired while on FMLA leave unless:
- You never apply for the FMLA leave in the first place.
- There’s evidence you engaged in some form of fraud, theft or other misconduct.
- You were already about to be fired due to poor performance or a reduction in force.
For its part, the Americans With Disabilities Act requires your employer to engage in meaningful conversations with you regarding any disability accommodations you need upon your return. They cannot refuse to make accommodations that aren’t cost-prohibitive, disruptive or burdensome to their business in some way.
Naturally, what you see happening and what your employer says is happening can be two vastly different things. It’s going to be very difficult for an employer to prove that their actions are aboveboard, for example, if you have zero disciplinary history until after you got sick or hurt.
If you believe that your employer retaliated against you for using FMLA leave or asking for disability accommodations (or both), find out more about your legal options.