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Employers cannot penalize disabled employees for using sick leave

New Jersey residents enjoy some of the fiercest legal protections in the nation when it comes to disability rights and the workplace.

It also has one of the broadest definitions of disability in the nation. Under the law in New Jersey, virtually every mental and physical disorder is considered a disability if it somehow interferes with an individual's ability to function normally. That's an incredibly wide definition that employers would do well to note before they make decisions that could come back to haunt them.

That was the lesson learned the hard way by a New Jersey health insurer who has to compensate a former employee for her wrongful termination to the tune of a total of $80,000 -- $64,000 for her lost wages and $16,000 for her pain and suffering.

The former employee was fired because her employer required her to earn a professional certification by a certain date and she failed to do so.

However, in the employee's defense -- which was the central issue that made up her lawsuit -- she'd been out on disability leave for a period of two months prior to the date she was required to make that certification. Those two months weren't factored in when her employer determined that she hadn't met the company's performance standards. Had they been, she would have had two more months to prepare for her test.

The New Jersey Attorney General's office pointedly reminded employers within the state that the definition of a disability under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is far more restrictive than New Jersey's laws -- and that sick leave isn't actually a benefit if employees are penalized for taking advantage of its availability.

Anyone who feels that he or she has been wrongfully terminated should seek the advice of an attorney as soon as possible in order to protect his or her rights. For more information on how our firm approaches wrongful termination cases, please visit our page.

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