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Is it OK to fire an employee with a serious medical condition?

Many of our Colorado readers are probably familiar with the Family Medical Leave Act, commonly known as the FMLA. This popular piece of federal legislation was enacted with the intention to protect an employee from being fired simply because that person needs some time to deal with a medical issue. Under the protections of the law, an employee may take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for a qualifying medical issue of their own, or to care for a family member who may need assistance due to health concerns. The law requires an employer to allow the employee to come back to their original position, or one of equal stature, when the leave is complete.

But what happens when an employee has such a serious condition that they need more than 12 weeks? That was the case for one employee in a recent incident, and she lost her job because of her absence from work.

According to the reports, the woman, who was employed as an assistant personnel director, needed the time allowed by the FMLA because she was dealing with cancer. The woman was reportedly diagnosed with cancer two years ago, and during her course of treatment she exhausted all of her available paid leave, and then used up all of the time allowed under the FMLA. A co-worker apparently had offered to donate some paid leave for the woman, but the employer did not allow this kind-hearted offer. Alleging that the woman had abandoned her job, the employer officially informed her late last month that she had been terminated from the position.

Can an employee be fired from their job because they are dealing with a serious medical condition? Or is that discrimination? These questions will likely be coming up in this case, as the former employee has indicated that she will be contesting her termination from employment.

Source: Trib Today.com, "Engineer releases employee after sick leave expires," Ron Selak, Jr., May 29, 2013

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