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Can I Be Fired While on Disability?

By December 30, 2021November 7th, 20233 min read

If you are suffering from a disability or in recovery from an accident, taking a leave from work to recuperate can cause anxiety. Will I be fired?  If I come back, will the same job I had before still be there?  Here, we will look at some of the employment possibilities associated with your leave.

As with most areas of American life, workers have some protections from the federal government, and others come from the states. Before you start your leave, you should check to see what laws apply in your specific state.  While most employees in the United States are at-will, which means that they can be fired at any time for any reason, there are some cases where it is illegal to terminate an employee.

The federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows eligible employees to take up to twelve weeks of unpaid leave in a twelve-month period for a family or medical reason. During this time, your job will be protected, but the key is making sure you are covered by FMLA. To qualify for the federal leave, your employer must have at least 50 workers within 75 miles of each other, and you must have worked at least one year and 1,250 hours for your current employer the year before your leave starts.

When you return from a leave under FMLA, you have to receive either your exact job or a virtually identical job to the one you had before you left. You are not guaranteed to receive your exact job, but a similar job must have the same pay, benefits, and other conditions of employment, such as the same shift.

If you are disabled but believe that you can return to work with a reasonable accommodation, request the accommodation from your employer. He or she must make an effort to provide the accommodation before firing you, as long as it would not result in an undue hardship to your employer, and it would allow you to continue performing the essential functions of your job.

If your situation fits into the above areas, and you are still fired, you may have a claim for wrongful termination, and you should contact an experienced attorney to see what your options are. But please note that if you extend your FMLA over 12 weeks, even by one day, your employer can provide you with a completely different job that is not similar to the one you had or fire you outright.

Many people wonder if their short- or long-term disability policies will protect their jobs while they are out on leave, but, sadly, that is not the case. These policies offer little to no job protection, so your employer can fire you even if you are receiving disability benefits this way. If you are fired and have concerns about continued health insurance, federal law allows you the option to maintain your existing health insurance coverage for a limited period of time, as long as you pay the full cost of coverage. This availability is called COBRA insurance, but it only applies to employers of 20 or more employees.