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Termination while on disability?

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  • Termination while on disability?


    I live in Michigan. I was recently off of work for about 4 months and was receiving short term disability. I returned to work with a 4 hour/day restriction and lift restriction. This was to last for two weeks then I would return to my 8 hour schedule, still with the lift restriction. I inquired with the HR department if they would accept me back on these terms (vs. having to stay out until no restrictions remained) and received a written response that they "did not anticipate a problem". One week into the limited hour return to work, I was released. I received a separation of employment agreement asking for an amicable parting along with other details (not relevant to this question). I was told this was a cost saving measure because the company was not doing well. I suspect because of my injuries and the fact that the company's medical program was "self insured", I may have been singled out as a means to reduce their medical costs. Several employees were released (about 20 out of 500). Part of the separation agreement states that the company will continue to cover salary and medical insurance for a period of time, but will not continue short or long term disability.

    On a separate note, they cut one or two people from several departments. I was selected for termination and was told it was "not a performance issue". I'm 44 and had been there about 2 years. They decided to keep another employee, same rank, with only 4 months experience and 8 years younger (and a friend and former employee of the general manager).

    My questions are:
    1) Can an employer terminate employment while the employee is on a disability leave?
    2) Is it legal to terminate employment based on medical expense costs (mine were high due to the disability, and I suspect the others selected also had high medical cost history)?
    3) On the age issue, was it legal to keep the younger, much less experienced employee and terminate my employment?

    Thanks in advance for your response.
    Last edited by stdpdl; 04-12-2006, 08:04 PM. Reason: spelling error

  • #2
    1.) Yes. Nothing whatsoever in the law says that employment cannot be termed while on disability leave. First of all, the longest that an employer is required to hold your job open (barring a bona fide contract or state law that says otherwise, and Michigan does not have one) is 12 weeks. Secondly, you can be termed inside the 12 weeks if it is for a business reason that would have occurred whether you took leave or not.

    2.) No, that is not legal. However, if 19 other employees were termed at the same time you were, it's going to be difficult for you to make the case that you were termed BECAUSE OF your potential medical expenses unless a significant number of the other employees also had higher than average medical claims.

    3.) Yes. Nothing in the law says that the older workers have to be retained over the younger ones. It says only that you cannot be selected for layoff BECAUSE of your age. If the younger employee was retained because he is cheaper (or, alternately, if he was retained because he is a friend of the GM) that is entirely legal.
    The above answer, whatever it is, assumes that no legally binding and enforceable contract or CBA says otherwise. If it does, then the terms of the contract or CBA apply.


    • #3

      Thanks CBG!

      On the second question then, how can I (or my labor attorney) obtain the medical cost data to determine if those selected were in fact a drain on the comapny's medical expense budget?


      • #4
        Outside of a court ordered subpoena, you very likely cannot. The other employees have certain privacy rights regarding their health issues.
        The above answer, whatever it is, assumes that no legally binding and enforceable contract or CBA says otherwise. If it does, then the terms of the contract or CBA apply.


        • #5
          Thanks again...and thanks for being out here for all of us!