Most employees in California are at-will employees who may be terminated “at-will” for any reason, unless that reason is illegal.

You could even be fired from your job while you are taking sick leave, but you cannot be fired because you took the leave – if you were entitled to it – or because of your illness or disability.

Without an employment contract or a union agreement, employment is at-will in this state. Firing an employee is illegal in California only in a very few specific circumstances.

In most cases, for example, an employer may legally fire an at-will employee for too many absences, but if those absences are protected by federal or state law, the firing is illegal.

WHAT FEDERAL LAWS PROTECT EMPLOYEES WHO ARE SICK OR INJURED?

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) gives employees who are qualified twelve weeks of unpaid leave in a twelve-month period to care for a new child or deal with a “serious health condition.”

A “serious condition,” as defined by the U.S. Department of Labor, is a condition that requires hospitalization or “continuing treatment” that requires more than three days away from work.

Employees who need unpaid FMLA leave must give their employers at least thirty days’ notice when at all possible. The FMLA applies only to employers with at least fifty employees.

Those employers may not discipline, retaliate against, or fire employees who take FMLA leave, and generally speaking, employees are allowed to return to and resume their jobs.

ARE YOU A VICTIM OF WRONGFUL TERMINATION?

If you missed work because of an injury or a serious health condition, and you took sick leave, and your employer terminated you for that reason, you may be a victim of wrongful termination.

If you believe that you have been fired in California for any reason that is illegal, arrange now to discuss your case and your rights with an experienced San Francisco employment rights attorney.

HOW DOES THE “ADA” PROTECT SICK AND INJURED WORKERS?

Your job may also be protected if you take sick days for a condition that is defined as a disability by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

The ADA bans employment discrimination against employees with physical or mental disabilities – impairments that considerably restrict an important bodily function or life activity.

The ADA does not explicitly require employers to grant leave to disabled employees, but it does mandate “reasonable accommodations” that allow disabled employees to perform their jobs.

Depending on the situation, time off from work might be a “reasonable” accommodation for a disabled employee, provided that it does not impose an “undue” hardship on the employer.

WHAT STATE LAW PROTECTS EMPLOYEES WHO ARE SICK OR INJURED?

Under California’s “Healthy Workplace Healthy Family Act” of 2014, California employers provide employees with one hour of paid sick leave for every thirty hours of work.

With several key exceptions, California’s “Healthy Workplace Healthy Family Act” of 2014 applies to almost every California business.

Workers may use these sick days to care for ailing loved ones and for preventative care as well as current medical conditions. Workers may use their sick days after ninety days of employment.

Employers may restrict the use of paid sick leave to 24 hours (or three workdays) for each year of employment, and employers are not required to pay unused leave when employment ends.

TO WHAT EXTENT ARE CALIFORNIA EMPLOYEES LEGALLY PROTECTED?

Although employees in California certainly enjoy more legally-protected employment rights than employees in most other states, that legal protection is not absolute.

For example, a disabled employee may not be fired  or stripped of any employee benefits for being disabled, but in a general lay-off, being disabled (or belonging to any other protected group) is no protection against being laid off.

Additionally, if an employee has not complied with an employer’s policies about leave – such as taking leave without notice – that noncompliance may provide a legal reason for termination.

And while someone cannot be terminated for taking protected medical leave, taking leave is not a protection against being fired for some other reason.

IF YOU ARE WRONGFULLY TERMINATED, WHERE CAN YOU TURN?

We’ve discussed several federal and state laws that can protect employees in California from being fired for taking sick days.

If an employer fired or threatened to fire you or retaliated against you in any way because you were sick and took leave, speak now to an experienced San Francisco employment rights attorney.

An employment rights lawyer can review the details of your wrongful termination claim, explain your employment rights and legal options, and – if it is warranted – help you take legal action.

WHAT ARE YOUR RIGHTS AS A WRONGFUL TERMINATION VICTIM?

As a wrongful termination victim, you may be entitled to return to your job, and you may also be compensated for your lost wages and emotional suffering. You are absolutely entitled to justice.

If you have been fired illegally in California, an employment lawyer will have a number of effective legal strategies for contesting your wrongful termination.

WHAT WILL AN ATTORNEY DO ON YOUR BEHALF?

Usually, attempting to negotiate an out-of-court settlement with the employer is the first step.

Out-of-court settlements are routine, and they save everyone a great deal of money and time. When an employee’s wrongful termination claim is strong, an out-of-court settlement is likely.

However, if a fair and reasonable settlement is not offered, your attorney may recommend taking your case to court. Each case is different, so it is imperative to heed your lawyer’s advice.

If you have been wrongfully terminated, and you can’t immediately find other work, you could quickly be unable to meet your responsibilities – because your employer broke the law.

WHEN DO YOU NEED TO ACT?

That is why you must seek legal help as swiftly as possible if you believe that you’ve been terminated for an illegal reason in California.

In fact, if you are the target of any employment or hiring discrimination in California, you’ll need someone who can fight for justice on your behalf.

The state of California does not tolerate wrongful termination, and if you have been wrongfully terminated in this state, the law is on your side, but you’ll have to take the first step on your own.

IF YOU’VE BEEN WRONGFULLY TERMINATED, WHAT’S THE FIRST STEP?

You have the right to seek justice and the right to an attorney.

With your job, career, and future at stake, you must exercise those rights. If you’ve been wrongfully terminated in California, don’t wait. The time you have to take legal action is limited.

Talk to an employment rights attorney now.

By: Fred Geonetta

Frederick J. Geonetta is a graduate of the University of California, Hastings College of Law. His legal practice is entirely devoted to litigation. Mr. Geonetta has spent the past 25 years in private practice representing both plaintiffs and defendants who have been harmed or wronged by the actions of others or who have been falsely accused of causing harm to others. He represents clients across the U.S. and international clients who seek U.S. legal advice or representation.