Can an Employee Be Terminated While on Medical Leave?

In this work-fanatic age, taking time off work for medical leave may feel like a taboo. A lot of employees feel the pressure to work late, take on tasks outside of their role, and even check their email at weekends.

In fact, when looking into how millennials treat sick days, they are three times as unlikely to take a day off than their older colleagues. This is due to the financial strain 20 to 36 year old’s feel.

When we looked at how people feel about their work colleagues coming into work when sick, 57% thought that they should absolutely take the day off. This removes the risk of the other members of the workforce from also getting sick.

It would also benefit the company you work for too. If you come to work sick and other colleagues catch it, the productivity of the business is not going to be the best it can be.

If you do decide to take medical leave from work, you may start to have concerns over whether you can be terminated by your employer. We just want to let you know that most of the time, this cannot happen.

It is only during certain instances that your employer may terminate your employment whilst you are on medical leave. 

Can an employee be terminated while on medical leave

What is Medical Leave?

Medical leave is split into two options. You can either take paid or unpaid leave. Depending on what sector you work in, you may have the benefit of paid medical leave. However, most jobs in the US do not include this benefit. This is what makes it difficult for many workers to take a sick day.

Unpaid medical leave may have to be taken in certain situations. To protect your employment during this medical leave, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) was created. To be eligible for this, there is certain criteria that both employer and employee must adhere to.

For the employer, they will be eligible if they employ 50 or more employees who are situated within 75 miles of each other. They must employ these workers for at least 20 weeks in the calendar year to be able to grant this unpaid leave.

When it comes to the employee, they will be eligible if the leave is for themselves or immediate family members. This is defined as the worker’s spouse, children or parents. The most common reasons which involve the FMLA are childbirth, serious health conditions, or caring for an immediate family member.

If the above criteria are met, the FMLA will grant up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave within one year. During this time, the employee will still receive health insurance coverage. FMLA granted leave is also something that will give you job security.

When the employee returns to work, they will pick up where they left off. Whether that’s their previous position at the company or to a similar role at the same pay rate.

Lawful Reasons for Termination While on Medical Leave

Despite having the benefit of FMLA approved medical leave, there are some scenarios that would grant the employer to terminate their employee on medical leave. You may initially deem this as unfair or unethical but the reasoning behind this does make sense.

Whilst a company cannot terminate an employee just because they have taken sick leave, they can terminate them for lawful reasons. The most common reasons that an employee is terminated while on medical leave are:

  • The employee does not meet the company’s performance levels.
  • The position the employee is hired for no longer exists.
  • The employee has engaged in crimes such as fraud while at the company.
  • The company does not have enough funding to return the employee back to work.

If any of the above reasons relate to the situation you find yourself in, just know that an employee can be terminated if the above points are met.

If the employer does move forward with terminating the employee under any of these conditions, then they should still be careful. It is best to get a HR representative involved to ensure that both parties end the discussion amicably.

Other Protections

Aside from the FMLA, there are a number of other state and federal laws that help to protect workers from termination while on medical leave. We are going to briefly discuss The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Workers’ Compensation Laws.

The ADA helps to protect any disabled employees from workplace discrimination. Many disabled workers need additional support to help carry out their roles. The ADA helps to lead their employers to the best course of action in each scenario.

The ADA can help approve additional unpaid leave and flexible working. Similar to the FMLA, the ADA still allows employers to terminate an employee for any lawful reasons.

The Workers’ Compensation Laws protect any employees which may have been injured whilst on the job. They will help provide disability payments, medical costs and lost wages. If an employee requires rehabilitation, the Workers’ Compensation Law can help to cover these costs too.

These costs can total to some high value claims. Many employers may attempt to terminate an employee because of this however this is illegal to do so. Like the FMLA and the ADA, the Workers’ Compensation Law can also allow for an employee to be terminated if they have met any of the listed lawful reasons.


To wrap things up, an employee can only be terminated from their position when on medical leave if their employer has lawful reasons for doing so.

These include not performing at the company level, committing criminal offences, the company cannot afford to bring back the employee or if the position no longer exists.

Despite these lawful circumstances, the majority of cases would be protected by many different services. The FMLA, ADA and Workers’ Compensation Law all act to provide some job security to employees.

They help employees feel comfortable to take medical leave for themselves or to help care for immediate family.


Thank you for visiting. This website is for informational purposes only. None of the information provided is intended to constitute, nor does it constitute, legal advice, and none of the information necessarily reflects the opinions of Misty Rock Capital LLC dba or anyone associated, employed or affiliated with Misty Rock Capital LLC dba