Can a company lay off an employee on medical leave due to a workforce reduction?

UPDATED: Oct 1, 2022

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Can a company lay off an employee on medical leave due to a workforce reduction?

We are an office of 4 people and 1 of the 4 is a replacement of a person that has been on medical leave for 23 weeks. We are too small to accommodate bringing this person back in the previous role they worked in and have no need for additional staff at this time.

Asked on September 24, 2018 under Employment Labor Law, California


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 4 years ago | Contributor

Legally, medical leave does not insulate an employee from termination for reasons wholly separate from his/her medical condition and leave, such as a reduction in force (RIF). Practically, the answer depends on whether the facts (e.g. timeline) supports that the RIF has nothing to do with the medical leave or reduction. 
BUT you are not not actually describing laying them off due to a RIF: you are not, for example, going from 4 employees to 3 or 2. You are describing staying static in headcount and laying off the person on medical leave rather than their replacement. That you cannot do: if you have the same number of positions, you have to bring the person who was on leave back and let go the person you brought in to cover for them.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The Answer(s) provided above are for general information only. The attorney providing the answer was not serving as the attorney for the person submitting the question or in any attorney-client relationship with such person. Laws may vary from state to state, and sometimes change. Tiny variations in the facts, or a fact not set forth in a question, often can change a legal outcome or an attorney's conclusion. Although has verified the attorney was admitted to practice law in at least one jurisdiction, he or she may not be authorized to practice law in the jurisdiction referred to in the question, nor is he or she necessarily experienced in the area of the law involved. Unlike the information in the Answer(s) above, upon which you should NOT rely, for personal advice you can rely upon we suggest you retain an attorney to represent you.

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