Can my job suspend me without pay for a rash on my neck that was there when they hired me?

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Can my job suspend me without pay for a rash on my neck that was there when they hired me?

I work in an open kitchen, and I was suspended last Thursday for a rash on my neck (that was their reasoning they gave me). Being suspended I cannot file for unemployment. I have seen my doctor and a specialist over the last few months to get rid of this, with no result. I feel like i’m in limbo right now because I can’t go to work, I can’t file for unemployment, and I can’t quit or I won’t receive unemployment. Can they legally do this to me, and are there any suggestions you may have? I have worked there 6 months.

Asked on June 20, 2011 under Employment Labor Law, Illinois


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 11 years ago | Contributor

They may, unfortunately, be able to do this.

1) If you don't have an employment agreement or contract of some kind, you are an "employee at will." An employee at will may generally be terminated or suspended for any reason that if not discriminatory (see below).

2) Employers may not discriminate against certain protected categories in employment: for example, on the basis of race, sex, religion, age over 40, or disability. However:

a) Not all medical conditions are "disabilities"--to be a disability, it must be permanent or long lasting, significantly impede your life or functions, and be largely beyond your control; a rash may well not be.

b) Even if something is a disability, the employer only has to make "reasonable accomodations"; if you work in a kitchen and have a difficult to clear up rash, it may not be reasonable to let you keep working there, since they have to consider health issues for other staff and customers.

Therefore, this may be a situation where you can be suspended more-or-less indefinitely, since you could also have been fired, it would appear.

However, you can't be left in limbo forever; if you are suspended long enough with no timeline or conditions for reinstatement, that may constitute "constructive unemployment" under which you've been effectively fired, and which would let you claim unemployment insurance. You should ideally consult with an employment attorney; if you can't afford one, you should be able to at least contact and ask the question of the labor department or unemployment office. Good luck.

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