When you're under a doctor's care, the last thing you want to worry about is your job security. In many cases, your employer can't get rid of you while you're under a physician's care, but there are cases where you could be terminated, even if you are undergoing medical treatment.
If you sustained injuries during the normal course of performing your job duties, you will likely file a workers' compensation claim. You cannot be fired because you filed a claim, but you could be discharged for other reasons that have nothing to do with your injury or your claim. For example, while you're on workers' compensation leave under the care of the company's doctor, if your employer discovers that you have been falsifying your time records, you could be fired for violating your employer's timekeeping policy.
Employment-at-will means you or your employer can terminate the employment relationship at any time, for any reason or for no reason, with or without notice. The employment-at-will doctrine has one important exception; employers cannot discharge an employee because she exercises her public policy rights, such as filing a workers' compensation claim. In some states, "good-faith and fair dealings" is another exception to the employment-at-will doctrine. If you are under a doctor's care and your employer fires you out of malice for being out of work while you're seeing a doctor, that could be illegal. The onus would probably be on you to prove that your employer's malicious act had something to do with you being under a doctor's care.
FMLA Job Protection
The U.S. Department of Labor, Wage and Hour Division enforces the Family and Medical Leave Act. The law provides eligible workers with up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave for a serious health condition or to care for a family member with a serious health condition. Because it's job-protected leave, your employer can't terminate you because you're on FMLA-qualifying leave, but there may be exceptions, provided the reason for your termination isn't connected to the FMLA leave. For example, if your employer was discussing closing your department long before you went on FMLA leave and eventually shut the operation down while you were on leave, you could be terminated. You would be entitled to all the rights and benefits that other similarly situated employees received, though, such as severance pay and continuation of benefits. Even in this case, if other employees in your department were offered jobs elsewhere in the company, you could be restored to a comparable position with the same pay, benefits and working conditions of your original job. When you're on FMLA leave, you're entitled to all the rights and benefits that you would have if you were not on leave.
If you're under the care of a doctor because of a disability or if you're pregnant, you cannot be fired because of your disability or because you're pregnant. If your disability prevents you from performing the essential functions of your job, even with an accommodation, you are no longer qualified to do the work and could be fired. If this is the case, you aren't being fired because you're under a doctor's care or because you have a disability -- your employer would base the determination on your inability to perform the essential functions of the job, with or without an accommodation. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 prohibit adverse employment actions based on a qualified disability or pregnancy.
- Smith & Baltaxe: Workers' Compensation FAQ
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: The Employment-At-Will Doctrine: Three Major Exceptions
- U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: Disability Discrimination
- U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: Questions and Answers on the Final Rule Implementing the ADA Amendments Act of 2008
- U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: Pregnancy Discrimination
- U.S. Department of Labor: The Family and Medical Leave Act
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.