Can we let a terminally ill employee go?

UPDATED: May 4, 2011

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Can we let a terminally ill employee go?

We have a small 2 employee company. It is outdoor work and labor intensive. An employee who has been with us 4 years was just given a year to live (cancer). He wants to continue working but we are concerned that his health will prevent him at some point from performing his job. Since we are so small we can’t afford for him to be out for any period of time. We don’t provide his health insurance, he has it through his spouse. If his health is preventing him from working at a normal level can we let him go? We don’t want to sound cold but this company is our livelihood.

Asked on May 4, 2011 under Employment Labor Law, Texas


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 11 years ago | Contributor

For a definitive answer, you are strongly advised to consult with an employment law attorney, who can evaluate all the circumstances in detail and provide a legal opinion. For a general overview: an employer is generally required to make "reasonable accomodations" for a disabled employee. Not all medical conditions count as  a  disability per se, but it would not be unreasonable for a terminal illness to be considered one. A reasonable accomodation is one the company *can* make at a not-too-unreasonable cost, such as shifting someone's duties (is there any indoor or admin work he can do), buying some assistive gear (could he do his job with a Segue to ride on, so he doesn't need to walk), alterinig hours (could he work part time, and do you have a part time job he can do), etc. There is no need to "invent" a job and pay someone for doing something you don't need, but you do need to accomodate if possible. However, as you can tell, what is or is not a reasonable accommodation is very situation specfic, so you need to discuss this in detail with counsel.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The Answer(s) provided above are for general information only. The attorney providing the answer was not serving as the attorney for the person submitting the question or in any attorney-client relationship with such person. Laws may vary from state to state, and sometimes change. Tiny variations in the facts, or a fact not set forth in a question, often can change a legal outcome or an attorney's conclusion. Although has verified the attorney was admitted to practice law in at least one jurisdiction, he or she may not be authorized to practice law in the jurisdiction referred to in the question, nor is he or she necessarily experienced in the area of the law involved. Unlike the information in the Answer(s) above, upon which you should NOT rely, for personal advice you can rely upon we suggest you retain an attorney to represent you.

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