One of the notions that I frequently encounter is the idea that “They can’t fire you while you’re on medical leave.”
That’s not quite true. It would be more accurate to say “They can’t fire you because you’re on medical leave.”
As with so many other things in the world of employment law, the real question we have to ask in a situation where someone has been fired close in time to an inquiry about or taking of medical leave is, “Why?”
I’ve been practicing employment law a long time, and I can assure you that although the legal doctrine of employment at will allows an employer to fire someone for no reason at all it is never the case that someone is fired for no reason. By airing someone is unpleasant to do and a presents a cost to the employer. There’s always a reason. The reason is sometimes a good reason and it’s sometimes a bad reason.
If you’re out on leave and get fired, that’s suspicious, so we want to look carefully at why that firing happened.
There are some kinds of claims where the employer’s intent doesn’t matter. But a termination for medical leave is not one of them. In nearly any termination litigation, we’re going to focus our inquiry on “Why.”
That you were on medical leave at all isn’t the question. The question is why your employer fired you.