Can You Get Fired for Calling in Sick?

By Rick J. — Published February 15, 2018

Can You Get Fired for Calling in Sick?


Fever, chills, bad cough and yet have to come to work? At least 43.5 million Americans have to report to work even with sniffles, sneezes, and coughs. As per a recent estimate, at least 25% of people got fired for calling in sick. The U.S. is one among the few developed countries not to have a paid sick leave policy to cover minor illnesses.

Getting fired for calling in sick haunts many people who would rather turn up for work than face the pink slip. The scenario is different in many European countries including Sweden and the Netherlands. The latter is one of the most generous when it comes to offering paid sick leave; workers here can avail leave of up to two years while being paid 70% of their pay. In the U.K, while the offer is not as generous, workers will receive a pay of £88 a week for a maximum of 28 weeks of sick days.

Doctor’s note: In the U.S., employment is “at will”, which means as an employee, you can be fired anytime or you can quit the job at any time without having to give an explanation. There is also no legal protection for minor illnesses such as cold, flu or a cough, and if your company does not have its own sick days policy, it is possible that you could get fired. Producing a doctor’s note may be required if you are absent for more than three days due to an illness.

FMLA: Under the federal FMLA (Family and Medical Leave Act), up to twelve weeks of leave can be availed, but without pay. In the private sector, FMLA only applies to those companies which have had more than fifty employees and requires for the employee to have been employed for one year or a minimum of 1,250 hours with the covered employer.

This act covers only serious medical conditions of either the employee or an immediate family member. Caring for a newborn baby, having to look after a dependent who is less than 18 years of age or other immediate family members who are seriously ill are some conditions allowed under FMLA. Others include pregnancy, chronic conditions such as Alzheimer’s, stroke, and other terminal conditions for which treatment is not effective.

The act offers legal protection against getting fired for calling in sick only when such criteria are met. If your company has less than fifty employees, you may not be covered under the FMLA.

Disabilities: If you are calling in sick for a condition that meets the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) criteria for disability, you may be protected from getting fired for calling in sick. This federal law protects disabled people from being discriminated against at workplace. To qualify for the ADA, the employer must have a minimum of fifteen employees. A person qualifies for disability protection if he or she has a physical or mental health condition that impacts functions including walking, hearing, seeing, learning or talking. Chronic conditions such as cancer and a temporary disability that lasts for less than six months are also considered under the ADA as disabilities.

Workplace injuries: Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is also a federal agency that protects employees against workplace safety violations. A truck driver who's prescribed for narcotics can refuse to drive as it would be a violation of safety laws. In this instance, the OSHA protects the driver from getting fired for calling in sick. Workers who handle food in public food outlets are also protected from getting fired for calling in sick under OSHA.

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