Can my employer discipline me for using sick time I’ve accumulated and harass me about bringing in a doctor’s note?

One of my managers gave me a reprimand about my attendance since I called in sick 3 times in the past 2 months. I’ve only called in sick 5 times this entire year and I’ve accumulated a couple hundred hours of sick time that I haven’t used. They also have varying standards for whom they require a doctor’s note from whenever they call in sick. I understand employers can and will fire an employee for their attendance but is this excessive? Also, can employers fire someone for using sick leave they’ve built up over the years? Is this legal?

Asked on October 25, 2011 under Employment Labor Law, Georgia

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 9 years ago | Contributor

You need to consult with an employment attorney in person, because this is a complex matter which depends on the specific facts and details--you need to therefore review it in detail.

Some principals to bear in mind:

1) Assuming you have no employment contract, you are an employee at will and may generally be fired at any time, for any reason whatsoever--including for what the employer believes is malingering or falsely using sick time (e.g. calling in sick when you're not).

2) If an employer effectively never lets you use a lawfully earned benefit--like sick time--there might be a cause of action, since the benefit is part of your compensation. If you are not allowed to use it, that could be a violation of the terms and conditions of your employment (there are always at least some terms and conditions, even when there is no employment contract; e.g. the wage or salary and other compensation you get in exchange for working)--you effectively would not be paid what you had agreed to work for.

3) However, as alluded to in 1), above, an employer may require that sick time only be used for when the employee is actually sick. If the employer suspects the time is being misused, it may require some form of proof or documentation, or warn the employee about excessive or improper use.

4) An employer does not have to treat all employees exactly the same--it may have


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