Can an employee be terminated while on medical leave? Is your employer required to hold your job for you while you’re on disability, and what happens if they don’t? 

Arizona is an at-will work state, meaning that management can fire employees at any time and for any (lawful) reason. However, when you’re on medical leave, the situation is different. It’s crucial to know your rights during this time so you aren’t taken advantage of. We’ll cover important key points you should know to protect yourself while taking unpaid leave.

The Federal FMLA Law

The FMLA (Family Medical Leave Act) is a federal law that gives qualifying employees up to 12 weeks per year of unpaid leave. How long does an employer have to hold a job for someone on medical leave under this act? You may take a full 12 weeks without the threat of losing your job. 

Your employer must maintain your health benefits during this period as if you were still at work. Once you return, your employer must reinstate you to your previous position or an equivalent. You must receive equivalent pay and responsibilities in addition to the same benefits as before.

What does the Law Cover?

Under FMLA, you can take time to recover from a serious health condition or take care of a severely ill family member. If you’ve received a foster child for adoption or care, you’re potentially eligible for FMLA rights. This leave also allows you time to bond with your baby or to take care of practical issues related to a relative’s military service. The FMLA allows employees to take up to 26 weeks to care for a relative who is seriously ill or injured from military service.

Employer/Employee Contact

Can your employer contact you while you’re on short term disability? When you’re on FMLA leave, your employer may contact you to ask certain work-related questions. They may only call occasionally and ask you about unfinished tasks or institutional knowledge-related matters. People from your work aren’t allowed to interfere with your leave or ask you to guide them through tasks while you’re taking this time.

Who is Eligible for the FMLA?

This law applies to employers with 50 employees or more. You may be eligible if you’ve worked at your job at least 1,250 hours within the 12-month period before your leave begins. You also must perform your job at a worksite that’s within 75 miles of the employer to qualify.

Termination and FMLA 

What are the conditions for termination according to the rules and protection provided by the FMLA? Can an employee be terminated while on short term disability? Let’s look closer at these questions below:

The ADA

The ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) forbids employers from firing an employee because of a disability. According to this act, disability refers to a “physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity.” The act’s definition of disability covers many people who are on disability leave. 

Disability Accommodation

As long as it doesn’t cause the employer “undue hardship,” they must try to accommodate your disability if they’re covered by the ADA. However, it’s up to you as the employee to tell your employer about your disability. Accommodations can include granting you extra unpaid leave, restructuring your schedule or duties, and more.

The employer must try out several different types of changes specific to the employee’s disability. Whether the accommodations they provide you count as a hardship for the employer is dependent on factors like the costs and size of the company. If the employer can’t make any reasonable changes to help the employee perform their job, they may legally terminate the worker. 

When can Your Employer Legally Terminate You on Disability Leave?

Companies are often reluctant to terminate workers on disability leave because of potential consequences. But holding an employee’s position open for an extended period can be impractical for the business. So, when can they lawfully terminate you when you’re on disability leave?

As mentioned, your employer may fire you while you’re on disability leave if you didn’t return after your 12-week FMLA period. They may also terminate you if you don’t return to work once your employer has made accommodations for your condition or you still can’t perform your job after the accommodations.

After Your Leave Expires

According to the FMLA law, employers may not consider their employee’s unpaid leave when making decisions to promote, discipline, lay off, or terminate their employment. However, remember that if your leave period is longer than the 12-week period protected by the law, your employer may lawfully terminate you. If you need more time than the FMLA gave you, you’ll need to request it, or you may lose your job.

Unemployment Considerations

Can you collect unemployment if you’re terminated while on disability? In this case, you might be able to receive unemployment benefits after you recover. Unemployment compensation law states that you must be available for duty, actively interviewing, and physically able to work. If you’re on short-term disability and recover soon, you may be able to begin your benefits then. For long-term disability, however, you may never recover, which means unemployment most likely won’t be available.

Have Questions about Your FMLA Rights?

If you experience a qualifying event that makes you eligible for FMLA rights, you don’t have to identify the FMLA specifically to your employer. If they know that you’ve been through something that calls for leave, it’s their burden to reach out and see if you need it. You are still eligible for its protections whether or not you mention the FMLA directly to them. 

If you lost a job due to missed work from a medical issue or caring for a sick loved one, you might be able to claim reinstatement or lost wages. If your employer has violated your disability rights, it’s best to speak with an employment law attorney as soon as possible. They can answer your questions and help you figure out the next best step. 

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

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