Often times a temporarily disabled employee can take a medical leave and return to work without any restrictions. If the employee and employer meet certain criteria, the employee will be protected from retaliation or discrimination and legally entitled to return to his or her job. Other times, however, an individual's disability requires more continued attention. Under these circumstances an employee may be entitled to a reasonable accommodation.
Workplace discrimination can occur in numerous forms. Federal and state laws not only prohibit an employer from taking adverse action against an employee due to that employee's protected characteristics (such as race, religion, national origin, or disability status), they also forbid employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of the protected characteristics of those with whom they closely associate.
It is illegal under both California and federal law for an employer to terminate or take other adverse employment action against an employee because that employee is disabled. In order to prevail on a wrongful termination claim for disability discrimination, however, a disabled employee who has been fired needs to prove not only that he has a disability, but also that he can still perform the essential functions of his job with or without reasonable accommodation.
The short answer is no, but employers frequently get this wrong. Many large corporations have policies that require termination of employees after their twelve weeks of leave is over, but the employee still needs more time to heal before returning to work. Illegal application by employers of set leave limit policies can result in a wrongful termination.
In a pregnancy discrimination case scheduled to be heard by the Supreme Court on December 3, Young v. United Parcel Service could resolve a circuit split regarding what accommodations a pregnant employee must be given. While some circuits are willing to find discrimination wherever a pregnant employee is denied accommodations similar to those that would be available to an employee who is injured on the job, most circuits only require an employer to treat a pregnant employee the same as a non-pregnant employee - effectively denying special accommodations.