One common scenario where AWOL (Absent Without Leave) rules and an employee's FEHA/ADA disability rights collide and conflict is state agencies and other employers that have set and rigid AWOL policies that they apply to everyone universally. The two common problems with such policies repeat themselves over and over in many wrongful termination claims, and these bad policies can work to an employee's advantage in proving their case in court:
* Rigid, uniform AWOL policies that are applied the same way to all employees. Even though it sounds fair to apply the same leave policy to all employees, it goes completely against the very essence of ADA and FEHA disability laws, which call for an individualized assessment of a qualifying disabled employee's disabilities, restrictions, and limitations. Indidivually evaluating a disabled employee's needs is a cornerstone of the "interactive process" in which the employer is required to engage in with a disabled employee.
* The language of the AWOL government code statute and other AWOL related statutes makes granting leave discretionary. The AWOL rules typically say that an employee who is out for a certain number of consecutive days without "approved" leave may be deemed AWOL resigned. The problem is that whether that leave is approved is completely up to the management. A manager may decide not to approve a disabled worker's medical leave for whatever reason, even though all the necessary medical documentation to support the requsted medical or disability leave has been provided.
The above two issues open a lot of doors for some employees, and especially state and county employees, terminated due to being AWOL, to legally attack their termination in court through a wrongful termination and/or disability discrimination lawsuit.
Many employees suffering from a disability or a particular medical condition qualify for FMLA leave, under which they are entitled to be placed on unpaid leave for up to 12 weeks in a year, assuming that certain FMLA conditions are satisfied.
However, very few employees are aware that upon expiration of FMLA leave, they might be entitled to additional time off as a reasonable accommodation to their disability / medical condition. Under California law, an employer must engage with an employee in a good faith interactive process to find out if the employee may be provided reasonable accommodation to his or her disability / medical condition at workplace. One of those reasonable accommodations can be extending the employee's leave beyond FMLA leave, unless this extended leave would impose undue hardship on the employer's business. An employer who fails to engage in this interactive process to investigate whether reasonable accommodations can be provided to the disabled / sick employee may be liable for disability discrimination, failure to accommodation and other violations of employment laws in California.
If you believe that your employer did not fulfill it's obligation under California law and you would like to discuss your situation at workplace, contact San Francisco employment attorney Arkady Itkin for a free, no-obligation consultation.