Can an employee be terminated while out on sick leave?

UPDATED: Apr 18, 2011

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Can an employee be terminated while out on sick leave?

I was terminated while under doctors care for my ulcer caused by my job. The reason for termination however was violating company policy; 2 weeks prior to HR calling me and terminating me, I stored customer info in my desk (but made it invisible unlike other employees who keep info for everyone to see). I had asked for a key for my desk many times and was not given such (I have pictures) and I decided to store it in my desk and cover it with all kinds of other non-customer pertaining material. My former manager was digging through my desk and found it. I was not warned nor was I aware of anything as I was out for 2 weeks due to an ulcer.

Asked on April 18, 2011 under Employment Labor Law, Washington


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

Answered 11 years ago | Contributor

Being out on medical leave does not automatically mean that you can't be terminated.  If you were terminated solely for the reason that you are on medical leave, then no it is not legal.  However, if you were laid off because of other work-related reasons then it is legal.  And here, there were other reasons, namely that you broke company policy.  Unless you had an employment or union contract to the contrary, no law was broken regarding your termination.  The only claim that you may have here to fight this action is if workplace discrimination of some kind took place.  However, based on the facts presented none is apparent. The fact is that most employment relationships are "at-will". Consequently, an employee can work for an employer or not, their choice. In turn, an employer can hire or fire an employee for any reason or no reason, with or without notice.

If, however, if you feel that you have been wrongfully terminated, you can file a complaint with your state's Department of Labor.  You may also want to discuss your situation with an attorney who specializes in employment law.

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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