If I was terminated from my job due to a non-work related injury, was my employer legally entitled to do so?

I was stricken with lower back pain and I promptly notified employer. I told them I would keep them apprised of my condition. Approximately 3 weeks later, I was terminated over the phone because I “have been, and continue to miss work”. Upon termination, my health benefits were cancelled and now I am in need of back surgery.

Asked on November 30, 2011 under Employment Labor Law, Arizona

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 9 years ago | Contributor

Yes, this is most likely legal. An employer is not obligated to retain as an employee--or to keep paying benefits for--someone who cannot or does not come to work. The only exceptions would be:

1) If you have an employment contract which covered this situation and protected or preserved your job;

2) Your employer and you are both covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act or a similar state law, and you took unpaid leave pursuant to that law. To be covered, your employer must have at least 50 employees within a 75 mile radius, and you have to have worked there at least a year. Also, you have to indicate you are taking FMLA leave.

3) IF your condition qualifies as a disability--which it may not; it's not clear that acute injuries always do--then the employer may need to make reasonable accomodations for that injury; but if you would be out for a number of weeks or frequently on an ongoing basis, it is not at all clear that it is "reasonable" to require the employer to retain you. Therefore, while it's not impossible that you'd have a claim for disability-based discrimination, it is, on the balance, unlikely.

Consider: to retain you and pay for your insurance while you are not working means the employer is being forced to pay benefits without getting anything in return. The law does not require that as a general matter, except as above.


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