There are a number of laws that provide various protections for employees with health-related issues depending on the size of their employer and the nature of the situation at issue.
The Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) requires covered employers (usually 50 or more employees) to provide eligible employees a leave of absence of up to twelve (12) weeks in any twelve (12)-month period for the following reasons:
- the birth of a son or daughter of the employee (maternity leave), and in order to care for such son or daughter;
- the placement of a son or daughter with the employee for adoption or foster care;
- to care for the spouse, or a son, daughter, or parent, of the employee, if such spouse, son, daughter, or parent has a serious health condition; or
- because of a serious health condition that makes the employee unable to perform his or her job (sick leave).
In many circumstances, leave may be taken in small amounts and on an as-needed basis, provided the employee provides as much notice as possible and the need for leave is properly certified.
The FMLA also prohibits employers from retaliating or interfering with an employee’s right to take leave.
There are individual requirements for eligibility for leave. Generally, an employee must have been employed for one year and have worked 1250 hours prior to the leave. If the employee’s one-year anniversary comes during the leave, he or she may be covered. Also, the employer must employ 50 or more employees within 75 miles of the site of employment. This can include remote employees who report to the site, or even the remote employee who reports to a far-away site.
Discrimination on the basis of pregnancy also is protected by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (“PDA”). The PDA states that discriminating against a woman on the basis of pregnancy is considered to be “sex discrimination” under Title VII. Generally, covered employers must treat pregnancies as they do other medical conditions and cannot discriminate in hiring or termination on the basis of pregnancy.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) also may provide protections for certain situations. The ADA protects “qualified individuals with a disability” from discrimination and requires employers to offer reasonable accommodations to enable qualified persons to perform an essential job function. The ADA also protects employees who are not in need of a reasonable accommodation, but who are nonetheless excluded from employment on the basis of the employer’s perceptions of the employee’s impairments. The ADA also prohibits employers from discriminating based on an employee’s “record of impairment,” which can mean, for example, a medical history or former workers compensation claim.
Whether an employee qualifies for coverage under the ADA and whether the law requires an employer to take certain actions are complex issues that can only be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. For example, one need not be “disabled” to be covered under the law. Likewise, whether the employer has to offer an “accommodation” under the law is very fact-specific. Consulting with an employment law attorney can help you understand your employment rights.
Your employer may not demote or fire you because you filed a workers’ compensation claim. This does not make it absolutely illegal to demote or fire anyone who has had a workplace injury or illness. The issue is whether the employer demoted or fired you for filing a claim or for collecting benefits.