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An employee who exercises his FMLA/CFRA or ADA/FEHA rights due to a qualifying disability or serious medical condition is considered to be in a "protected" class. This means that it is illegal for an employer to treat that employee differently because of his exercise the above workplace disability rights.
Being "protected" does not mean, however, that an employee is protected from any employment action and enjoys some kind of immunity because of his FMLA or ADA status. For instance, when a lay-off takes place, and employee who is on FMLA or ADA leave is subject to lay-off just like any other employee. It would only be illegal to choose an employee for lay-off because of his FMLA /ADA status.
The same applies to employment terminations. A disabled employee who engages in some kind of misconduct or violates an employer's policy can be lawfully terminated just like any other employee who never applied for FMLA leave or ADA/FEHA leave or other accommodations. Being in a "protected" class is not a shield against all harm. It's only a legal remedy against being treated differently because you are a member of that class.
Under ADA/FEHA Requiring an Employee to be 100% Recovered Before Allowing Him to Return to Work is Generally Illegal
Below is an example of a potentially illegal and discriminatory AWOL notice that one of our clients has received. This document alone shows how the employer is trying to disregard the rights of an employee to (additional) medical leave as an accommodation. The employer - state agency - unfairly leverages the language of the applicable AWOL provisions to terminate an employee who is potentially entitled to a number of rights and protections under ADA and FEHA.
Below is an example of an actual medical note which is likely insufficient in order to put the employer on proper notice of you need for medical leave under FMLA, CFRA, ADA or FEHA. There are two main issues with this medical note:
First, even though it states that the employee has "several medical condition", it doesn't identify any such conditions. It would be helpful to the employer if the doctor who wrote this note was a little more specific about the nature of his patient's condition and the resulting limitations.
The second issue that it doesn't firmly excuse the employee from work for certain dates. "... prevent her from appearing" is not the same as "unable to report to work between (date) and (date).
You should not hesitate to review or have an attorney review the medical note you receive from your doctor, which you plan to transmit to your employer in order to have your medical leave approved, in order to make sure that it is sufficiently specific and complete.
Many disabled employees and their employers are under the mistaken belief that once their FMLA leave is exhausted, they have no right to any other leave and have to come back to work despite their health condition and/or disability. It is not uncommon for California employers to discipline, suspend or even fire employees who are unable to return to work after their FMLA/CFRA leaves expires. This however is often unlawful as it may violate the employer's obligation to engage in interactive process and provide reasonable accommodations to a disabled employee.
Numerous California cases have held that finite leave may be a reasonable accommodation under the Fair Employment and Housing Act, provided that upon expiration of leave the employee will be able to perform his duties, and finite leave might be all that's necessary to accommodate the employee's medical condition.
Unfortunately, many employee are not aware of this right and feel both hopeless and helpless after their FMLA leave expires. Extended leave under FEHA is of major help in such situations.
One common issue that arises under the above circumstances is whether the leave was finite or too indefinite, because the employers have no duty to accommodate an employee or keep his position open while he is on disability of he is expected to be on leave indefinitely.