Can My Employer Fire Me If I Get the Coronavirus?

The United States currently has the highest numbers coronavirus cases in the world. As of mid-August 2020, the US has reported close to 5.2 million coronavirus cases and 165,000 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Many people who have tested positive for the coronavirus, or COVID-19, contracted the illness from a source at work. Whether you get the coronavirus from your job or another source, know your rights as an employee in California.

How Is Disability Legally Defined?

The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) protects people with disabilities from wrongful termination. The ADA prohibits employers from discriminating against employees or applicants based on a disability. It includes wrongful termination as a form of discrimination or harassment. Rather than listing every condition that qualifies as a disability, the ADA gives a definition of the term. According to the law, disability is a physical or mental impairment that significantly impacts one or more major life activities.

A person may qualify as someone with disability even with a history or record of a type of impairment or if perceived as someone with an impairment. Having the coronavirus could qualify as a disability under the definition in the ADA since severe symptoms could limit major life activities. Severe symptoms connected to COVID-19 include respiratory problems, trouble breathing, chest pain and extreme fatigue. A pre-existing condition that COVID-19 exacerbates could also qualify as a disability.

Legal Protections for Disabilities & Health Conditions

Several federal and state laws exist to protect people with disabilities and serious medical conditions from adverse employment actions, including job termination. These laws include the ADA, as well as a few others that may apply to COVID-19 cases. Lawmakers passed one act, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), specifically to address sick, medical and family leave for coronavirus cases. This act applies to certain public employers, as well as private employers with less than 500 employees. Small businesses with less than 50 employees may qualify for an exemption, however.

The FFCRA requires these employers to provide paid sick leave or expand existing leave for reasons related to COVID-19. These provisions will remain in place until December 31, 2020. The act makes covered employees eligible for two weeks of paid sick leave at their regular rate of pay due to quarantine and/or experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, two weeks at two-thirds the regular rate of pay for having to care for someone in quarantine or with the virus, and 10 weeks of additional paid family and medical leave at two-thirds the rate of pay to care for a child whose school or daycare is closed due to COVID-19.

Can I Be Fired for Taking Time Off Because of COVID-19?

Whether or not your employer can fire you for taking time off due to COVID-19 depends on the circumstances. California is an at-will employment state, meaning that, in general, your employer can choose to let you go for any reason or no reason at all. An employer cannot, however, terminate your job for unlawful reasons or against state policy.

If you have COVID-19 and meet the definition of someone with a disability, your employer cannot fire you for requesting reasonable accommodations. This would go against the provisions of the ADA. Your employer also cannot fire you as a form of retaliation for reporting the company’s failure to comply with state or federal coronavirus mandates. Finally, your employer cannot fire you for taking your state-mandated medical or family leave as an eligible employee due to COVID-19.

Contact an LA Wrongful Termination Attorney

If your boss fired you because of a disability, perceived disability or time-off request related to COVID-19, you could have a wrongful termination case against the company. Contact a Los Angeles wrongful termination attorney without delay to learn your rights. If you do have grounds for a claim, a time limit will apply to your case. Act quickly to ensure the protection of your rights as an employee in California.