Is it legal to cut someone’s hours and thereby eliminate their insurance benefits after they have been out on sick leave?

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Is it legal to cut someone’s hours and thereby eliminate their insurance benefits after they have been out on sick leave?

I have worked for 3 years in a full-time position; in no way a part-time job. In fact I work over-time without getting paid almost every day. My boss and HR informed me they were cutting my job because they were “combining” positions. They offered this new position to another employee but she has refused the position and quit, erroneously assuming that thinking they would keep me full-time. Another employee also put in her resignation and they still have not asked me to stay to help out even. I was recently hospitalized and have been back at work full-time less then a month.So after all these years full-time, my job is going to part-time and my pay is being cut by 20%. Additionally, I will lose my insurance in 3 months. Is this legal?

Asked on May 3, 2011 under Employment Labor Law, California

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 10 years ago | Contributor

1) An employee may not be discriminated or retaliated against because he or she is disabled--though NOT all medical condition amount to disability, and generally short term ones will not--or because he or she properly used a protected benefit, such as FMLA leave (though to have properly used it, (i) you must meet FMLA's eligibility criteria; (ii) the company must be covered--typically at least 50 employees; and (iii) you  must have provided proper notice of the lease). There may also be state leave laws you can take advantage of, though they would also have certain eligility criteria and require notice. However, apart from the above, a company *may* take action against an employee for being out too long, not being able to work the hours they need, etc. There is no general obligation, apart from specific ones imposed by law, to allow employees to miss work, even for illness.

2) Even if the employee properly took FMLA leave or is disabled, an employer may reduce their hours and compensation (including benefts, if the reduction in hours reduces or eliminates benefits) for unrelated reasons, such as restructuring, downsizing, performance issues, etc.

3) If you don't have a contract, you are an employee at will, and employees at will may generally have their hours cut at will.

For a definitive answer, you should discuss the matter with an employement attorney, who can evaluate all the circumstances in detail (the facts are everything). But as a general matter, the hours of an employee, and therefore insurance and pay, can be cut after sick leave as long as its not discrimination against the disabled or retaliation for using protected leave.


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