Staying home sick often is best for your recovery so you can return to work healthy. But if you're dealing with a boss who is threatening to fire you because you're sick, it could affect your heath and well-being to the point where you're actually sick about your job security. In many cases, you are protected against termination based on what your boss might perceive as an illness; however, if your boss's threats focus on other aspects of your attendance or history, she might be able to actually fire you when you're sick.
If your boss is threatening to fire you based on poor attendance or misusing the company's sick leave policy, you could lose your job if your attendance records indicate that your absences were not because of illness. But if your boss is attempting to penalize you for taking sick time to which you're entitled by company policy or federal or state law, you can address this issue with your boss, the human resources department or a higher up who understands employment law concerning employer's knowledge or misuse of employees' health- or medical-related information.
Under normal circumstances, your boss can't threaten to fire you because you take leave, according to the Family and Medical Leave Act. The FMLA provides eligible workers with up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave for a serious health condition. If you're on FMLA leave, then you've provided your employer with proof of care you are receiving from your doctor, and threats based on FMLA leave or being sick possibly violate that federal law. If you believe the threats are related to FMLA leave, you should contact the U.S. Department of Labor, Wage and Hour Division for guidance.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission enforces the Americans with Disabilities Act, which prohibits adverse employment actions based on an actual or perceived disability. When the ADA was amended in 2008 vis-a-vis the Americans with Disability Act Amendments Act, it covered episodic conditions that some might consider sickness or illness. In addition, the amendments addressed high-risk pregnancy as a disabling condition, which some also might lump into a category as an employee "being sick." If your boss's threats are related to an illness that you believe is covered by the ADA, then use the EEOC's online assessment tool (egov.eeoc.gov/eas/) to determine whether you should contact an EEOC representative.
Employers have an obligation to maintain a safe and healthy work environment, which includes protecting workers from contaminants and, in other instances, protecting patients from exposure to health care workers who are sick. If you have a contagious illness and intentionally expose others to your condition, your boss might have reason to terminate you. If your boss repeatedly counsels you to stay home while you have a contagious illness and you insist on coming to work and potentially putting others at risk, your boss can fire you for insubordination. In this case, your boss isn't terminating you based on being sick, but is instead terminating you because you didn't follow your supervisor's work directives. For example, if you refuse to follow hospital protocol for work restrictions concerning preventable or controllable illnesses, your boss could fire you for policy violations that prevent the hospital from maintaining a safe workplace.
- U.S. Department of Labor: The Family and Medical Leave Act
- U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: Notice Concerning the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Amendments Act of 2008
- Cornell University ILR School: The Law at Work: What You Need to Know About Your Rights
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Immunization of Health-Care Workers
Ruth Mayhew has been writing since the mid-1980s, and she has been an HR subject matter expert since 1995. Her work appears in "The Multi-Generational Workforce in the Health Care Industry," and she has been cited in numerous publications, including journals and textbooks that focus on human resources management practices. She holds a Master of Arts in sociology from the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Ruth resides in the nation's capital, Washington, D.C.