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Can You Get Fired for Calling in Sick?


Maybe you’ve been battling a cold all week or suddenly came down with something the night before. You feel awful – it’s hard to go more than a few seconds without blowing your nose, your throat feels swollen, and maybe your stomach feels like it’s turning over and in on itself. You don’t think you should be at work today, but you’re afraid missing a day could get your fired. What should you do?

Becoming ill enough to miss work is something most people have experienced at least once in their lives. For the purposes of this piece, we’re not really talking about illnesses severe enough that they would trigger more serious legislation like the Family and Medical Leave Act, but instead those like the flu, food poisoning, or the common cold.

Out of concern for the health and safety of individuals and their coworkers, California mandates a minimum of 24 hours’ worth of paid sick leave for workers, accruing at a rate of at least one hour for every 30 worked. Many employers afford their workers more paid or unpaid sick leave than the state’s minimum, but workers may fear taking advantage of such leave could peeve managers and cause employment termination.

Despite California’s at-will employment doctrine, the guardrails are still up along certain circumstances your employer may want to result in your termination, like missing work because of an illness. Under California law, however, taking sick leave you were entitled to is a protected activity. As long as you have the leave time to claim, your employer would risk engaging in wrongful termination for letting you go.

So, what if you’ve used up all of your sick leave? Unfortunately, at this point, missing work is missing work regardless of the circumstances. If you’ve exhausted your sick leave and need to call in again later in the year, your employer is protected under most circumstances if they choose to let you go for missing work.

Yet, a glaring exception even here is if you’re missing work because of a serious medical emergency or disability. Protections in the Family and Medical Leave Act, Americans with Disabilities Act, and any of California’s even more robust laws could shield you from termination.

Regardless, if you were fired for calling in sick and feel like your rights are being violated, the best thing to do is to reach out to an employment law attorney for help.

Contact Us for Legal Assistance

If you think you need to hold an employer accountable for violating your rights by firing you for taking sick leave or denying your request for leave, reach our to K2 Employment Law Group for help. We are a full-service employment law firm that can help you with employment law claims related to wrongful termination, discrimination, harassment, Family and Medical Leave Act violations, and more.

Reach out to us online or call (800) 590-7674 and ask to schedule a free consultation with an attorney who can help you with your claim.