Can my employer ask about my family emergency?

I went home early from work and told my employer that I needed to leave due to a family emergency. My employer was very upset with me and asked,

Asked on July 8, 2017 under Employment Labor Law, California


M.D., Member, California and New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 3 years ago | Contributor

The fact is that unless there exists an employment contract or union agreement to the contrary, an employee has no legal right to be absent from work due to a family emergency. Accordingly, to the extent that an employer chooses to let an employee leave, it can ask details about the emergency, set conditions about the leave time, and/or warn the worker about not doing asking for it again. Further, it can also deny an employee permission to leave and can effectively make them choose between their job and their family. Unfair as it may seem; it is legal. In an "at ill" work relationship, a company can set the conditions of employment much as it sees fit absent some form of legally actionable discrimination.

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 3 years ago | Contributor

Yes, your employer can ask about your family emergency and does NOT have to let you leave work for it--the employer can legally make you choose between your job and your family (and employers effectively do this everyday, even in more subtle ways--such as requiring working parents to work schedules that conflict with child care obligations). There is no legal right to leave or miss work for a family emergency, so you could be terminated for this; that being the case, the employer can inquire into it, set conditions on it, or warn you that this was a one-time exception.

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