A common concern for many employees is what to do when they fall ill. You might wonder whether your job will be safe, how much you can call in sick, and what consequences you might face for missing too much work. 

Without an awareness of the laws surrounding employee illness, you might make a misstep and lose your job. We’ll go over some factors to keep in mind and what to do if you run into any confusion or trouble.

Illness and the FMLA

You may be eligible for 12 weeks of job-protected time off for illness each year. The FMLA (Family and Medical Leave Act) provides certain employees with unpaid leave and requires employers to maintain their health benefits when they’re gone. The act applies to not only your own illness but caring for immediate family members. Here are some events that the FMLA covers:

  • Suffering a serious medical condition
  • A close relative suffering a severe medical condition
  • Having a baby or caring for your newborn child
  • Receiving a foster child or adopting

The event doesn’t have to be related to your job to qualify under the FMLA. If you experience one of these events and your employer is covered by the act, you can take up to 12 weeks and return to the same or an equivalent position without suffering penalties.

Paid Sick Leave in Arizona

As of July, 2017, Arizona employers must provide workers with paid sick leave for their own illness or for taking care of their family members. You can request to use your time in person, over the phone, electronically, or by other means that your employer deems acceptable. You may use paid sick leave for the following situations:

  • Medical care
  • Health conditions
  • Physical or mental illness
  • Communicable disease exposure
  • Public health emergencies
  • Absence due to violence or stalking

Employers can only require that you provide a doctor’s note if you use three or more days in a row and can’t require you to give specific details for your absence. If you do give them details, they must keep them confidential.

Should You Get a Doctor’s Note?

To qualify for unpaid leave under the FMLA, you’ll likely need medical evidence in the form of a doctor’s note. If you’ve missed three or more days in a row of work while using paid sick leave, your boss may ask you for a doctor’s note. Even if they don’t require it, it’s not a bad idea to have one for your own credibility. 

The ADA

If you have a disability, your employer may request a note that shows that you need special accommodations to work. According to the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act), they must make reasonable adjustments for you, if possible. A note is helpful when your disability isn’t immediately visible. By law, your employer isn’t allowed to use the note as a reason for firing or discriminating against you.

Arizona’s At-Will Employment

Can you be fired for being sick with a doctor’s note? Arizona is an at-will employment state, meaning your employer may fire you for any reason that doesn’t involve discrimination. So, according to this rule, your employer may fire you, even if you bring them a doctor’s note.

Is it illegal for an employer to not accept a doctor’s note? Unless you qualify for sick time according to one of the programs mentioned, it’s not illegal for your employer to refuse a note that proves your illness. Although the note may help, it’s not an automatic excuse for missing your responsibilities at work.

Sickness and Unemployment

If you’re fired for medical reasons, can you still get unemployment? To qualify for unemployment benefits, the law requires that you’re mentally and physically able to work. You must be fit for a similar position as before or have the education and skills to work in a different field. If you’re unable to attend your job due to illness, you’ll likely be ineligible for benefits unless your doctor has cleared you for returning to work.

If you’re been fired, collect all documentation that relates to your termination. You may need it if you plan to apply for benefits. If you aren’t sure whether you can receive these benefits or not, contact the unemployment office in your area to find out. If you’re entitled to unemployment, they’ll help you figure out the next step for attaining the benefits. 

You should also look into other state programs that are in place to help you while you seek another job. Speaking with an attorney may also be a good idea.

Can I be Fired for Being Sick Too Much?

It’s generally up to your employer whether or not to accept your doctor’s note as a valid reason for missing work a lot. Even if you bring a note, companies are still allowed to discipline excessive absences at work unless you’re covered by paid sick leave, the FMLA, or the ADA. If it’s infrequent injuries or illness, you’ll likely be fine. Repeatedly missing work without protection from one of these programs, however, can lead to issues for the company, and you may be fired. 

90-Day Protection for Paid Sick Leave

In some cases, your employer may have been violating a law when they fired you. Under the paid sick leave law, your employer may not retaliate against you (via termination, a cut in pay, or other consequences) for using your leave. If your employer fires you within 90 days of your sick leave, it could show they were doing so because you used the leave you’re entitled to.

If you think your employer unlawfully dismissed you, it’s important to seek legal counsel as soon as possible.

Can You Sue Your Employer if You’re Fired for being Sick?

You may have a valid claim against your employer if they penalized you for using sick days or fired you while you were under the protection of the ADA or FMLA. To sue, you first must file a claim with the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission). 

They will review your information and issue you a “right to sue” letter. Working with an employment law attorney is best so you can get the most ideal outcome for your specific situation. They can also answer any questions you may have on the topic.

Call our Employment Law team at (480) 464-1111 to discuss your case today.

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