Can we let a terminally ill employee go?

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Can we let a terminally ill employee go?

We have a small 2 employee company. It is outdoor work and labor intensive. An employee who has been with us 4 years was just given a year to live (cancer). He wants to continue working but we are concerned that his health will prevent him at some point from performing his job. Since we are so small we can’t afford for him to be out for any period of time. We don’t provide his health insurance, he has it through his spouse. If his health is preventing him from working at a normal level can we let him go? We don’t want to sound cold but this company is our livelihood.

Asked on May 4, 2011 under Employment Labor Law, Texas

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 10 years ago | Contributor

For a definitive answer, you are strongly advised to consult with an employment law attorney, who can evaluate all the circumstances in detail and provide a legal opinion. For a general overview: an employer is generally required to make "reasonable accomodations" for a disabled employee. Not all medical conditions count as  a  disability per se, but it would not be unreasonable for a terminal illness to be considered one. A reasonable accomodation is one the company *can* make at a not-too-unreasonable cost, such as shifting someone's duties (is there any indoor or admin work he can do), buying some assistive gear (could he do his job with a Segue to ride on, so he doesn't need to walk), alterinig hours (could he work part time, and do you have a part time job he can do), etc. There is no need to "invent" a job and pay someone for doing something you don't need, but you do need to accomodate if possible. However, as you can tell, what is or is not a reasonable accommodation is very situation specfic, so you need to discuss this in detail with counsel.


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