Is it legal for an employer to require someone to come into work when they are sick?

I have been really really sick for the past 4 days. I worked for 2 of those days and I took yesterday off and tried to take today off but they are now saying that I have to come in because there is no coverage. I work in a restaurant and I am running a fever. Is this legal?

Asked on December 1, 2010 under Employment Labor Law, Washington


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

Answered 9 years ago | Contributor

No one can force another person to work.  However, an "at will" employer could fire you for not doing so.  Unfortunately, under most employment relationships an employer is legally be permitted  to hire/fire someone for any reason or no reason whatsoever, as well has increase/decrease salary/hours, promote/demote, and generally impose requirements as they see fit.  An employee in turn can work for an employer or not, their choice. 

The exceptions to the above would be if there is a stated company policy contrary to the way in which your situation is being handled, or there is a union/employment agreement that does not allow for such action, or this situation has arisen due to some type of discrimination (i.e., for reasons due to your race, religion, age, disability, sex, national origin).  Absent any of the foregoing, your employer's action does not violate the law (although it is incredibly stupid).

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