It may be long after the worst waves of the COVID-19 pandemic that some California workers will be left wondering whether their “long-haul” symptoms entitle them to any employment law protections. Our Los Angeles disability discrimination attorneys believe we’re going to see this as the basis for a growing number of California wrongful termination claims in the coming months.
Case-in-point: Last month, a Central California hospital lab employee who is a long-haul COVID-19 sufferer sued her former employer for disability discrimination, retaliation violating medical leave laws and wrongful termination. According to the Fresno Bee, the worker first became sick with coronavirus in April of last year. Her doctor placed her on six weeks medical leave. She came back to work in June, but her symptoms persisted. Combined with her pre-existing conditions (diabetes, cardio-pulmonary disease and traumatic brain injury), she was unable to work for intermittent periods. Her doctor recommended periodic medical leave. However, she said when she asked her boss for the paperwork to file the request, she was reportedly told that “she better not.”
Over months, plaintiff was absent several times due to lingering viral effects. She claims though her absence was due to her medical condition, her employer disciplined and ultimately fired her for violation of the health center’s employee attendance policy.
If her allegations prove true (a spokesperson for the employer would not comment on pending litigation), it’s possible she’ll prevail. California statute grants employees up to three months (12 weeks) of leave in one year for serious medical ailments. Furthermore, it’s unlawful for employers to retaliate against workers for asking for or taking that leave.
As longtime L.A. wrongful termination lawyers, we’re concerned about a potential increase in cases like these. We’d caution employers against disciplining or especially firing workers as a first resort for simply exceeding medical leave – whether it’s for long-haul coronavirus symptoms or some other condition. It may be much more productive for all involved to simply have a conversation about how much more time off is needed.
In the Fresno case, the plaintiff is seeking not only her job back, but also lost wages, special damages and punitive damages.