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Can my employer fire me when I am out on medical leave?

State and federal protections help to reduce the risk of discrimination within the workplace. Discrimination can occur in many forms, from ageism and sexism to racism and discrimination against religious beliefs. Another common example is discrimination against those who take medical leave.

What is discrimination against those who take medical leave?

Examples of illegal discrimination when it comes to medical leave can include a boss that chooses to fire a worker because the worker is a mother out on maternity leave, a father on paternity leave, or a worker who has medical leave to recover from a serious surgical procedure. Firing that individual because they are on leave is more than just unethical — it is often illegal.

What laws protect workers when on leave?

The federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) as well as the state California Family Rights Act (CFRA) protect from termination while on leave. These protections allow the worker to return to the same or comparable position after completing their leave.

Is it ever okay for an employer to fire a worker while the worker is on leave?

In some cases, this is legal. State and federal law allows an employer to terminate a worker on leave if the employer would have otherwise fired the worker for reasons unrelated to the leave.

This is not uncommon. Recent mass layoffs in the tech industry provide an example. People throughout the country are sharing stories of washing baby bottles or waking from rest after surgery to find their employer laid them off from their job while they were on medical leave.

What if I believe my employer fired me in retaliation for taking leave?

Those who believe they are the victim of retaliation for taking medical leave likely have a legal claim against their employer for workplace discrimination. If able to build a successful case this can lead to compensation to help cover lost wages.

Is there anything else I should know about these laws?

They are evolving. Recent changes include:

  • Addition of designated person. Lawmakers provided the ability to take leave to care for additional “designated persons” in January of 2023. These individuals can include anyone related by blood to the employee, like an aunt or cousin as well as an unmarried partner or close friend when the relationship is akin to a family relationship.
  • Expansion of qualifying employers. California law provides these protections in any private workplace of five or more employees and state and local governments.
  • Elimination of limitation when both parents work for the same employer. The state also removed a previous limitation that required parents who worked for the same employer to split the 12 weeks of leave when welcoming a new child to the family. Each parent is now allotted their own 12-week period.

An attorney can discuss these and other changes that could impact your case.