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Can an Employee Be Fired While on Medical Leave in California?

Many individuals have to take time off work due to an illness or medical condition. Employees are entitled to medical leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). In California, employees are also entitled to leave for a serious health condition under the California Family Rights Act (CFRA). Due to the current economy and uncertain job security, many workers question if they will have a job when they come back from leave, or if they should risk taking medical leave at all. Some employees worry that they will be fired while on medical leave.

Under the FMLA and CFRA, an employee cannot be fired simply because he or she is on medical leave. When determining if an employee was wrongfully terminated, the reason the employee was fired is the most important aspect to look at, not necessarily the timing. The law allows employees to take time off for medical reasons. An employer cannot terminate an employee because he or she has an illness or medical condition, or because the employee is on medical leave.

Nonetheless, if there is another reason for the termination, separate from the medical leave or medical condition, that action is not protected by the FMLA and CFRA. There are legitimate reasons that an employee may no longer have a job when he or she returns from medical leave. Some of these reasons may include a situation where the position no longer exists (lay-off) or if the employee's return to the position would cause substantial economic injury to the employer.

Therefore, an employee may be terminated while on medical leave if the reason for the termination is not based on the employee's illness, medical condition or reason for taking a medical leave. Termination situations can be complex and cases are often very fact specific. If you feel that you have been wrongfully terminated, consult with an experienced employment attorney to discuss your situation.

Keep in mind that California has a statute of limitations on employment claims - if you think you have been wrongfully terminated, you must file a claim within two years with the federal Department of Labor (DOL) and within one year of the violation under the CFRA. For this reason, it is imperative to pursue your claim as soon as possible and preserve your rights.

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