A Law Career

Two Ways To Protect Your Job While On Disability Leave

by Ruby Mckinney

It is illegal for employers to discriminate against or fire employees for having disabilities. However, there isn't anything in the law that prevents employers from firing workers while they are on disability leave and/or collecting benefits, as long as the reason for the dismissal isn't because of their physical or mental condition. If you're worried your employer may give your job to someone else while you're out recovering or dealing with your medical issues, here are two ways you may be able to protect your position.

Use the Family and Medical Leave Act

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a federal law that lets employees take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year to tend to medical issues or take care of close family members. Under this law, employers are required to reinstate employees to the same jobs, or ones identical to their positions, when employees return from approved FMLA leaves. This means that if you take off work to recover from or deal with a disability, your employer can't fire you while you're away.

To be eligible for this option, you must:

  • Have put in 1,250 hours in the year before the first day of your leave
  • Must have worked for a covered employer for at least 12 months (can be non-consecutive)
  • Work for an employer that has a minimum of 50 employees who are located within 75 miles of each other
  • Must have an eligible condition

Not all disabilities or health conditions qualify for FMLA leave. To be eligible, your condition must require inpatient care, leave you incapacitated for more than 3 days and require treatment by a healthcare professional, be a chronic serious medical ailment, or be a long-term health problem, among other categories.

It's important you follow your company's notification requirements when taking time off using the FMLA. Failure to do so may result in you losing the protection this law offers.

Make a Case that Leave is a Reasonable Accommodation

Under the Americans with Disability Act, employers are required to make reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities so they can do their jobs. Typically this refers to making modifications in the physical environment (e.g. wheelchair ramps) or providing assistive devices (e.g. screen reader for the blind). However, reasonable accommodation may also encompass providing time off work.

The caveat here is that letting you take the time off must not create an undue hardship on the company. For instance, if you're one of two salespeople who work at your company and giving you the time off without replacing you would put the company at a significant competitive disadvantage, the company may not be required to honor your request.

However, if you're able to get your employer to agree to let you take time off under the ADA, then your job will be protected until you return to work.

There may be other things you can do to protect your job status while you are taking time off to deal with your medical condition. Contact a disability attorney, like http://www.johnehornattorney.com, who can provide some advice that may be helpful.