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Is it OK to fire someone because of an illness?

Jan 2007

Q. Three weeks before my scheduled date of resignation, I got sick. After spending a Friday in the hospital and the rest of the weekend at home, I told my supervisor I expected to be in by the following Friday at the latest. She then told me I would be laid off because I had been absent too many times. Is it legal to fire someone because they've been out sick for several days? Is there anything I can do?

A. I would suggest you read your company's sick policy first to see what steps your company expects you to take when you are sick.

Time off and sick policies vary among companies. Yours may have a set of rules you must follow when using illness as reason to be excused from work. Some companies require employees to call in every day while they are out sick unless they request a formal sick leave of absence, in which case they must get a physician to certify their illness. Some companies may require employees to provide a doctor's note whenever they call in sick.

Whatever your company's policy may be, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) does require employers who have at least 50 employees to provide their employees with at least 3 months' medical leave. However, your employer must approve your time off, and will probably require a physician to certify your leave. You also need to have worked at least 1,250 hours to be eligible for FMLA. Of course, the law is a little more detailed than what I have described. So before you go any further, I would urge you to read your company's policy.

Good luck.

- Erisa Ojimba, Certified Compensation Professional

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