Can my employer ask about my family emergency?

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Can my employer ask about my family emergency?

I went home early from work and told my employer that I needed to leave due to a family emergency. My employer was very upset with me and asked for more details.

Asked on July 8, 2017 under Employment Labor Law, California

Answers:

M.D., Member, California and New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 5 years ago | Contributor

It may seem inconvenient to provide details. The fact is that unless there exists an employment contract or union agreement to the contrary, an employee has no legal right to be absent from work due to a family emergency. Accordingly, to the extent that an employer chooses to let an employee leave, it can ask details about the emergency, set conditions about the leave time, and/or warn the worker about not doing asking for it again. It doesn't matter if the family emergency excuse is for legitimate reasons or if you just want to go home early. The same rules apply.

Further, a company can also deny an employee permission to leave and can effectively make them choose between their job and their family. Unfair as it may seem, it is legal. In an "at ill" work relationship, a company can set the conditions of employment much as it sees fit absent some form of legally actionable discrimination.

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 5 years ago | Contributor

Yes, your employer can ask about your family emergency and does NOT have to let you leave work for it. The employer can legally make you choose between your job and your family (and employers effectively do this everyday, even in more subtle ways--such as requiring working parents to work schedules that conflict with child care obligations). There is no legal right to leave or miss work for a family emergency. So you could be terminated for this.

Generally, employers may be more likely to question if it's a valid excuse if family emergencies or other absences are a regular thing or if you're new. If you're a dedicated employee with the company for several years who never misses work, they may be more understanding. However, company policy can dictate the same rules for everyone regardless of work habits.

That being the case, the employer can inquire into it, set conditions on it, or warn you that this was a one-time exception.

There is one exception to this. If you have applied for and are using FMLA leave, the employer may be required to let you off up to a point. If you're facing ongoing family or personal medical issues, talk to your human resources department. They can advise you on what kind of documentation they would need.

In these cases, as long as you follow protocol, you cannot be fired for related absences. If you exceed the amount allowed by federal law, you could still be terminated. Keep in mind, FMLA also has to be approved before you start using it.

Some companies may also provide mental health days, but that's at their discretion. In general, even if you have valid reasons, your employer may ask follow-up questions before letting you go or after you come back.


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 AttorneyPages.com 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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