Can an Employer Fire Someone on Temporary Disability During the Pandemic?


Before the coronavirus ravaged the American economy, causing a severe rise in unemployment, most people who had to take temporary medical leave could feel confident that their position would be waiting for them when they returned. However, employers are permitted to refuse reinstatement of an employee on disability if the job no longer exists due to economic circumstances. While such decisions may be legitimate, some businesses may try to invent a justification for a firing. If you have lost your job in this situation, several questions may be relevant to determining if the termination was proper.

Has a legitimate business necessity been demonstrated?

As businesses throughout the United States reel from the effects of the coronavirus, it seems that employers across most industries can make a plausible claim that lower revenues or other changed circumstances compelled them to fire workers on temporary disability. One way to assess whether a termination was based on necessity is to look at what has happened to co-workers with similar skills and experience. If they were not fired, further investigation might be warranted to see if your disability claim factored into the decision to terminate you.

Was a reason related to job performance given for the termination?

Dismissals based on job performance are also permitted while an employee is collecting temporary disability benefits. However, a termination on these grounds must relate to the time when the worker was actually on the job. The claimant’s absence on temporary disability cannot be characterized as a performance issue.

Is your absence authorized under the Family and Medical Leave Act?

Under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, employees of certain businesses can receive up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave relating to the birth of a child, a medical condition, or the need to care for a loved one who is having health problems. The FMLA applies to companies with at least 50 employees but some states provide protections for workers at smaller businesses. Typically, these protections apply unless a department has been eliminated or a general layoff has occurred.

Losing a job is a serious hardship, especially when you’re dealing with a medical condition. With massive unemployment triggered by COVID-19, finding a new position could be difficult. Accordingly, you might wish to consult with an attorney if you believe you were fired unlawfully while out of work due to a temporary disability.