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By Douglas Lipsky

Imagine this scenario: After months of dedicated service, you find yourself battling a severe illness. Despite your best efforts to fulfill your duties, your employer abruptly terminates your employment, citing your health as the reason. 

This unfortunate situation highlights a pressing concern for many workers: can your employer legally fire you for being sick? Let’s explore the laws surrounding employment termination due to illness, including your rights as an employee and what steps you can take to protect yourself in such situations.

What Is a Disability?

Generally, a disability is any physical or mental impairment substantially limiting one or more major life activities. The federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines a disability as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a record of such impairment, or being regarded as having such impairment.

The New York State Human Rights Law and New York City Human Rights Law) mirror the ADA’s definition but include additional protections and broader interpretations of disability.

Both federal and state laws prohibit discrimination against individuals with disabilities in employment, housing, public accommodations, and other areas. Understanding these definitions is crucial for employees seeking protection and accommodation for their disabilities in the workplace.

When Terminating a Sick Employee is Wrongful

Terminating a sick employee can be considered wrongful under certain circumstances, especially if it violates anti-discrimination laws or breaches employment contracts. 

In short, terminating an employee due to illness may constitute disability discrimination under federal and state laws, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the New York State Human Rights Law. Also, a termination that violates the terms of an employment contract or collective bargaining agreement may be wrongful.

In addition, firing an employee for taking legally protected sick leave or requesting reasonable accommodations for their illness may be considered retaliation.

In these situations, employees have legal recourse to challenge their termination and seek remedies for wrongful dismissal. Employers must ensure that terminations comply with applicable laws and contractual agreements to avoid legal repercussions.

NYC Employer Obligations To Sick Employees

Employers in New York City have specific obligations to sick employees, governed by various laws and regulations:

  • Paid sick leave: NYC’s Paid Safe and Sick Leave Law mandates that employers provide paid sick leave to employees, allowing them to take time off for their illness or to care for ill family members.
  • Reasonable accommodations: Employers must provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities, including modifications to work duties or schedules, unless it would cause undue hardship to the business.
  • Non-Discrimination: Employers are prohibited from discriminating against employees based on their illness or disability under the New York City Human Rights Law and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Compliance with these obligations ensures that sick employees are treated fairly and access necessary accommodations and benefits, fostering a more inclusive and supportive workplace environment.

How A Wrongful Termination Attorney Can Help

Suppose your employer has fired you due to illness. In that case, an attorney can provide advice and guidance on your rights under federal, state, and local laws, including disability discrimination laws and employment contracts. They can assess the circumstances of your termination to determine if it constitutes wrongful termination or discrimination, helping you understand your legal options.

Moreover, an attorney can represent you in negotiations with your employer or legal proceedings, advocating for fair treatment and compensation. They can also help you pursue recoverable damages, which may include:

  • Lost wages: Compensation for income lost due to wrongful termination or discrimination.
  • Emotional distress: Damages for the emotional harm caused by the wrongful termination, such as anxiety, depression, or humiliation.
  • Punitive damages: Additional damages awarded to punish the employer for egregious misconduct and deter future violations.

By enlisting an attorney’s support, you can confidently navigate the complexities of employment law and protect your right to receive fair compensation.

Have You Been Fired For Being Sick?

If you’ve been wrongfully terminated due to illness, contact Lipsky Lowe for experienced legal representation. Let us help you navigate the legal process and secure the compensation you deserve.

About the Author
Douglas Lipsky is a co-founding partner of Lipsky Lowe LLP. He has extensive experience in all areas of employment law, including discrimination, sexual harassment, hostile work environment, retaliation, wrongful discharge, breach of contract, unpaid overtime, and unpaid tips. He also represents clients in complex wage and hour claims, including collective actions under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act and class actions under the laws of many different states. If you have questions about this article, contact Douglas today.