Can an Employer Fire You for Taking a Leave of Absence?

Don't stress out about taking a leave of absence from work.
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Life can sometimes be unpredictable. When you have one of these “curve ball” moments, the last thing you need to be worrying about is losing your job. The good news is that many of the larger employers offer employee benefits to protect you when you need to take a leave of absence from work. There are also federal and state labor laws in place to protect you from getting fired.

Types of Leave

    There are different types of leave you can take from your job, including medical, pregnancy, short-term disability and workers' compensation. Medical leave is offered under the Family and Medical Leave Act, also referred to as FMLA. Under FMLA, you can take up to 12 weeks of time off from work to care for your own medical needs, as well as the needs of a child, spouse or parent. Pregnancy leave also falls under FMLA, allowing you to take up to 12 weeks off for the birth of a child. Short term disability leave is company specific and may not be available with all employers. Under short term disability, you can take several weeks of paid time off to recover from a short-term injury or illness.

Termination is Possible

    Whether or not your employer is required to abide by federal leave requirements depends upon the size of the employer. For instance, companies that have less than 50 employees are not required to offer FMLA benefits. If you take a leave of absence from a job that has no benefits, termination is highly possible. This is especially true if your absence is causing the company undue hardship or financial loss. An employer offering leave benefits may also fire you if you fail to come back to work within a “reasonable period of time.” In many cases, one year is considered a reasonable period of time.

Before Taking Leave

    Before taking a leave of absence, read your employment contract to determine your rights. For instance, you must be on your job for at least 12 months before using FMLA. Speak with your employer to determine exactly how long you can remain on leave without affecting your employment status. Whatever the employer tells you, get it in writing. By doing so, you create a paper trail that comes in handy if the employer reneges on her word. Make sure your request for a leave of absence is also in writing, as well as the approval from your employer.

If You Are Terminated

    If you are terminated by an employer who is required to offer leave benefits, you may be the victim of wrongful termination. For this reason, many employers will not terminate you while you are on an approved leave of absence. Consult with an employment attorney to determine if wrongful termination applies to your situation. If the attorney concludes that your employer is at fault, he may advise you to file a wrongful termination lawsuit.

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