Termination: can I be fired for exhausting my sick leave?

My charge nurse at the hospital where I work sent me home because I had pink eye, a contagious infection. While out under a doctor's care, I was terminated for exhausting all my sick/annual leave. I had been sent home for obvious health and safety reasons and was under a doctor’s care. Is that legal?

Unless you have an employment contract of some kind, in Wisconsin you’re an employee ‘at will,’ meaning your employer can terminate you at any time for any reason.

Nevertheless, all employers have to comply with state and federal employment laws. For example, if you can prove your termination was based on a discriminatory factor (e.g., age, race, etc.), then your employer’s actions were not legal.

You’re more likely, however, to find recourse through the Family Medical Leave Act which requires employers to give employees additional time off for a serious health condition, either their own or that of a close family member. To qualify, you must have been employed for at least one year and have worked a certain number of hours in that year. If you’re new or part-time on the job, you may not qualify.

In Wisconsin, Family Medical Leave Act claims must be filed within 30 days of termination. If your employer did not post a flyer in the workplace explaining your rights under the Act, you may have 30 days from the time you learn about it elsewhere.

As you consider your options, try to remember — just as a court will — the employer’s point of view. Employers need workers they can count on to be at work and get their jobs done. That’s why attendance and time-off policies are created, and it’s why workers are hired in the first place.

For more information on employment law in Wisconsin, contact Ellen Frantz at 608-784-5678.

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