Getting Fired for a Medical Condition

Is it illegal for my employer to fire me because I have a medical condition?

A New York woman has filed suit against the Staten Island University Hospital after she was allegedly fired for her apnea medical condition.  The plaintiff worked as an EMT dispatcher at the hospital and fell asleep twice at work.  She was diagnosed with severe sleep apnea syndrome.  The terminated employee now urges she was wrongfully terminated and is seeking $10 million in back and front pay as well as her job back.  As this lawsuit continues to wind its way through the legal system, it raises an important issue for many employees: can you be fired for a medical condition?

At-Will Employment 

Most employment today is considered “at-will.”  This means that your employer is free to fire you for any reason whatsoever.  However, at-will employment is still subject to a wide variety of local, state, and federal laws that make termination based on certain factors illegal.  In some instances, firing an employee for a medical condition could constitute wrongful termination.  

Sick, Injured, or Disabled Employees May Be Protected 

Federal and state laws prohibit employers from firing employees who are disabled, sustain work related injuries, or need time off work due to a health issue.  For example, under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), an employer with more than 50 employees must allow qualifying employees to take unpaid leave for a medical condition.  Accordingly, if an employee is fired while on protected leave due to a medical condition, the employee may have a viable action for wrongful termination.

Alternatively, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) provides protections for people with a qualifying disability.  Under the Act, it is illegal to fire an employee due to their protected disability.  An employer can still terminate a disabled employee if the termination is unrelated to the medical condition, or the employee does not meet the requirements for the job with reasonable accommodation.  A disabled employee could also be fired if he or she poses a threat to health or safety in the workplace. 

Any employee who believes they have been fired due to their serious medical condition or disability should contact a wrongful termination lawyer.  Your attorney will review the facts surrounding your termination and your medical condition to determine whether your employer violated state or federal laws.