Can employer fire an employee for too many absences? Does it matter if the absences are “excused” in Kentucky?
Whether those excessive absences are excused or not, the employer has the right, with certain exceptions, to fire a worker who takes too many days off.
There are many companies that have policies against frequent or excessive absenteeism. An employee under such a policy can be fired for taking a large number of sick days with or without an excuse.
In some states, the fired worker may be entitled to unemployment benefits, particularly if the last absence was a legitimate one – because of illness, for example, or being unable to find child care.
What are the exceptions?
First, if a policy is applied to discriminate, the action is illegal. Assume that 2 employees are both taking 5 days off. Both have doctors’ excuses. The employer must either fire both workers or keep both of them on. Treating one employee differently because of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin is a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Second, if an employee has a doctor’s documentation of a serious illness, the employee may have the right to unpaid leave through the Family and Medical Leave Act, or FMLA.
Third, if a worker is absent because of a disability, she or he may be protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The definition of disability may include pregnancy, arthritis, diabetes, and high blood pressure. It may also encompass mental health issues such as depression as well as alcoholism or drug use.
In the U.S., most states operate under what is called the “employment at will” principle. That means employers have a right to fire a worker at any time for any or no reason. Conversely, workers have the same right – to quit at any time, for any reason or for no reason whatsoever. It is good practice for employers to give workers notice before firing them, but not required.
Neither state nor federal law addresses the matter of “unexcused” or “excused” absences. JH
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