Can I be automatically terminated if I’ve been unable to find a job 90 days after returning from non-FMLA medical leave?

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Can I be automatically terminated if I’ve been unable to find a job 90 days after returning from non-FMLA medical leave?

I was employed at a large financial institution of 49,000 employees on 2/1/16. On 5/11/16, I went on non-FMLA medical leave due to a psychiatric condition disability. Upon release of the hospital, I found my job had been replaced, which at the time was only less than 2 months later so it is safe to assume they immediately began searching for a replacement. I’m not sure that my absence had caused them undue hardship as they are a large company and also could’ve hired a temporary worker. In November, I finally received notice from the doctor that I may return to work. My employer informed me that I had 90 days from then to find a job within the company or become automatically terminated. I was unsuccessful and thus terminated. Is this automatic termination illegal? Are they obligated to place me in a position? Am I entitled to reinstatement into the same position I used to hold despite the new hire? I have been seeing a therapist for the emotional distress depression and anxiety that

unemployment has been causing me. What can I expect from a lawsuit or settlement?

Asked on May 27, 2017 under Employment Labor Law, New York

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 3 years ago | Contributor

Based on the timeline in your question, you were out for five months or longer on non-FMLA leave, though even if it had been FMLA leave, that would not have made a difference: FMLA is only up to 12 weeks. You were out too long: your employer does not need to hold your job or offer you a new position after so long but may instead terminate you.
You seen to assume that the employer cannot terminate you unless they are suffering an "undue hardship" or if they could hire a temporary worker. That is not the case: employees have no rights to a job in the U.S. Rather, employment in this nation is "employment at will": employers may terminate employees at any time, for any reason not specifically prohibited by law. The law gives you the right to a certain amount of leave for medical reasons--e.g. 12 weeks under FMLA. But once you have exceeded the amount of leave guaranteed you by law, the employer no longer needs to keep you employed; they don't have to hold a position for, or re-employ you when you return. 
Based on what you write, your employer's actions were legal; being legal, you have no viable cause of action or claim against them.


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