Being terminated from a job for a disability is not only illegal in the state of California, but it can be a life-altering experience without taking legal action. According to the ACLU, an average of 150,000 people are wrongfully terminated each year.
Because almost all employees in the US are “at-will”, meaning your employer does not need a reason to fire you, there are rarely repercussions or a basis to fight back. Unless you are a public employee and receive a due hearing process, the only option for private employees is to join or form a union, prove wrongful termination, or walk away. While there are limitless reasons for an employer to fire workers, doing so while the employee is on disability leave may be illegal, depending on the circumstances.
What is Wrongful Termination?
There are several illegal reasons to fire an employee. If the following applies to your current experience, you may be eligible to file a lawsuit:
- Employment Discrimination – Both public and private employers are prohibited from discriminating based on race, gender, gender identity, religion, sexual orientation, national origin, age, disability, immigration status, and other statuses.
- Retaliation from your Employer – Employers can not fire an employee for engaging in protected activity such as whistleblowing, discrimination complaints, reporting or complaining about sexual harassment, or forming a union.
Can I Be Fired While on Disability?
There are several laws, including the ones mentioned below, that protect California residents from wrongful termination while on disability leave. Examples of conditions and health issues that qualify as a “disability” include:
- Genetic disorders such as conditions like down syndrome, hemophilia, and Huntington’s disease
- Medical conditions including disorders that affect the cardiovascular system, musculoskeletal, neurological system, etc
- Mental Disabilities including autism spectrum disorder, clinical depression, cognitive disabilities, obsessive-compulsive disorder, PTSD, etc
- Physical Disabilities including the loss of a limb, a disfigurement, or physiological condition or disease
What is Short-Term and Long-Term Disability?
While short-term disability refers to the immediate financial coverage you receive following an injury that renders you incapable of employment. Long-term disability insurance is what you receive once your short-term benefits have ended. Typically, long-term disability coverage kicks in 10-53 weeks after you are unable to work. There are several ways California residents may take advantage of long-term disability benefits.
The Family & Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a federal law that provides unpaid leave for up to 12 weeks per year for qualifying businesses. The company must have at least 50 employees who reside within 75 miles of the workplace. To be eligible, the employee must have worked there for at least one calendar year for a total of 1,250 non-consecutive hours. While the leave is unpaid, you may also qualify for short or long-term disability while receiving FMLA benefits as long as your injury does not extend past 12 weeks. Your employer must then allow you to return to your job or provide a substantially identical position.
The state of California protects employees even further through the California Family Rights Act (CFRA) which awards employees 12 weeks out of the calendar year to take care of a child. It also provides leave for employees to take care of themselves or immediate family members if they are sick. Employers must pay out the employee for any vacation time used during their CFRA leave time as well as award them the same or substantially identical position, salary, and benefits or risk violating the law.
Thirdly, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) ensures that your employer can not legally fire you for a disability. The ADA’s definition of disability includes most individuals who have been injured and are on disability leave and some who have returned to work. In order to qualify, your employer must have 15 or more employees and make reasonable accommodations for the employee during their leave.
Finally, California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) prohibits disability discrimination, similar to the ADA, but with more protections for California workers than those in other states.
What are Reasonable Accommodations?
Reasonable accommodations can mean a variety of benefits from your employer including:
- Any change to the job, work environment, or essential functions of the role
- Providing additional unpaid leave if necessary to regain employment
- Providing training materials in alternative formats (ie. braille, audiotape, or electric)
- Providing sign language interpreters or captioning
- Allowing for extra breaks when necessary
Unless the employer can prove that reasonable accommodations would be an undue hardship – meaning accommodations would result in extreme difficulty or expense, they must fulfill the employee’s need. Reasonable accommodations do not include things like the creation of a new role or providing personal items such as eyeglasses or mobility aids.
How to Sue My Employer for Wrongful Termination in Los Angeles
There are several requirements to meet before filing a lawsuit against your employer for wrongful termination while on disability:
- Make sure you have announced your disability to your employer – Ideally, you will have written or electronic records stating that you have shared this information and or that your employer confirmed acknowledgment. Including a friend or co-worker, human resources representative, or family member on the correspondence may be helpful later on down the line.
- Demonstrate ability to perform key components of the job – While on disability, you must be able to perform the most important aspects of your role. Let’s say you were in a car accident and that impaired your vision. There may be areas of your work that are now impossible to perform. You must ask for reasonable accommodations to be made such as transferring to a new department or requesting that particular portion of your role be assigned to a coworker while on disability. If these accommodations prove to be impossible or are too costly for your employer, you can not sue.
- If your accommodations can be met, your employer must oblige. Let’s say there is no consideration or attempt made to accommodate your disability. If your employer refuses you, then you have a valid discrimination lawsuit.
1. Collect Your Evidence
So, you have determined your employer has wrongfully terminated you. Now, you must collect all possible evidence to support your claim. Gather all emails or letters that detail your disability as you have notified your employer. If it is ongoing, get things in writing. Print out copies of any communication on the topic with your employer and a medical professional documenting your injury for a strong case.
2. Show the Full Story
It’s important to show the full story whether that includes verbal records, non-verbal communications, or testimonials of incidents you have shared with others. Make note of conversations that occurred after your request for accommodations as well. If your accommodations did not meet your needs, you will need detail as to how you attempted to communicate this with your employer.
3. Hire an Attorney
While you have the right to sue your employer for wrongful termination on your own, it’s best to hire an attorney who specializes in employment or civil rights law. An experienced workplace civil rights attorney will help you craft a compelling case and decide which information is relevant or needed to do so. Your attorney will act on your behalf and provide credibility in navigating the circumstances surrounding your case. Not only will the process be smoother, but you are more likely to receive maximum damages if you hire an attorney.
Hire a Wrongful Termination Lawyer in Los Angeles | Contact Kyle Todd Today
Employment law can be an extremely stressful field to navigate. If you find yourself in a tough spot and in need of an employment lawyer, there’s only one person to call. Kyle Todd, P.C. has defended hundreds of wronged employees due to wrongful termination while on disability. With a more than 97% success rate, you are sure to receive the damages you are owed. Don’t let your future be determined by injustice in the workplace. Let Kyle Todd P.C. represent you in your fight to regain wages, justify your emotional distress to a jury, and provide grounds for back pay or front pay. Understanding and applying your civil rights starts with hiring Kyle Todd P.C. Schedule a consultation today!