Employees often feel uncertain about their jobs when considering taking medical leave because they fear that it will put their job at risk. However, California law allows employees to take time off for certain family and medical reasons. Under the California Family Rights Act (CFRA), you cannot be terminated for taking qualified leave. CFRA allows eligible employees to take up to twelve weeks unpaid leave within in a twelve month period, with a guaranteed position waiting upon your return – assuming you qualify. To be covered by the CFRA, the employer must have a minimum of fifty employees within a seventy-five-mile radius, and the employee must have worked for the employer for at least twelve months and must have worked for 1,250 hours in the twelve months before the start of the leave. After you return to work from medical leave, your employer/co-workers have no right to harass or treat you differently because you took leave.
Sometimes, an employee may have a medical condition or disability that requires them to take more than twelve weeks off. If this happens, you have protections under California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA). A serious medical condition can qualify as a disability under the FEHA if it limits a major life activity – such as walking or working. The FEHA requires an employer to engage in an interactive process with you to determine if you can return to work with an accommodation. Additional, finite periods of leave can be considered reasonable accommodations in certain circumstances. If an employer terminates you at the end of your twelve weeks leave without discussion, it has most likely violated the law.
If there are valid reasons for termination other than your leave, your employer may have a defense against a claim for violation of CFRA, retaliation, and disability discrimination. Examples of valid reasons may include the elimination of your position, or your return to your position causes economic injury to the employer. Unfortunately, our experience has been that an employer can raise these as pretextual excuses when the underlying reason for your termination was, in fact, due to taking medical leave or needing accommodation.
If you took a properly noticed leave based on your medical condition or disability, and you suspect your employer terminated you or retaliated against you as a result, or you are being harassed and retaliated against after your return, you may have a claim under California’s FEHA laws. You need an experienced employment attorney to analyze the unique facts in your situation. The attorneys at Potter Handy, Employment Group are here to help.
The statute of limitations on most claims discussed in this article is one year from the last date of the incident. Exceptions apply.