There are laws in this country and state that offer some protections to persons with certain kinds of disabilities. Most of those laws are about protecting disabled workers who can do the job if the employer will just agree to some modest and workable changes in it. There are few laws that relieve the employee of the burden of showing up and doing the job.
It may be that you need to find work that you will be more inspired and engaged by -- so that you can attend more often and come closer to meeting an employer's legitimate needs and expectations. When it comes to employment, showing up and working is the irreducible minimum. Just about everything else is negotiable.
In any event, the employee handbook is not an exhaustive catalog of all of the kinds of conduct that can cause termination. But since you have a union contract, you may have specific rights in addition to those few and limited rights provided by statutes. Talk with your union rep immediately. Very likely there is an obligation to submit your dispute with your employer to the grievance process before you could pursue any legal process.
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There are various sources of POTENTIAL protection related to your medical status.
There is limited protection if your absences are caused by a serious medical condition as that is defined by law. You may be protected under the Family and Medical Leave Act, 29 U.S.C. section 2101 et seq. (FMLA) and the California Family Rights Act, Government Code section 12945.2 (CFRA) if all of the following is true: (a) your employer has at least 50 employees who work within 75 miles of one another; and (b) you have worked for this employer for at least one year all together, even if not consecutively; (c) you have worked for this employer at least 1,250 hours in the immediately preceding year; and (d) you have a serious medical condition as defined by the FMLA.
If your asthma is causing you to miss this much work, you probably have a serious medical condition as defined by law. If the other conditions are met, you may have strong protection.
Please look at my Avvo guide on the Family and Medical Leave Act, 29 U.S.C. section 2101 et seq. (FMLA) to see if that law applies in your situation: http://www.avvo.com/pages/show?category_id=6&permalink=family-and-medical-leave-fmla-summary-of-key-provisions. California’s CFRA is the same as the FMLA in all areas other than pregnancy disability and enforcement.
If the condition is due to a disability as defined by law, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, 42 U.S.C. sections 12101 et seq. (ADA) and the California Fair Employment and Housing Act, California Government Code sections 12900, et seq. (FEHA) may provide some protection. Please look at my Avvo guide on the ADA: http://www.avvo.com/legal-guides/ugc/employment-disability-protection-under-californias-fair-employment-and-housing-act-and-federal-ada and also on the differences between the ADA and California’s more generous FEHA: http://www.avvo.com/legal-guides/ugc/employment-disability-protection-under-californias-fair-employment-and-housing-act-and-federal-ada?published=true
Your asthma may also qualify as a disability under these laws. The California FEHA is more expansive (and only requires the employer to have 5 employees) and you are more likely to meet the definition of a person with a disability under the FEHA than under the ADA. However, if you filed a charge of disability discrimination with the EEOC, it has filed a claim on your behalf with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (dual filed). The DFEH enforces the FEHA.
Your union contract most likely contains a provision stating the employer cannot discipline an employee without just cause, or proper cause, or similar language. It may also contain a provision stating the employer must comply with the external law. You should immediately discuss this situation with your union, which may be able to help you. Note there are usually very short time limits for filing a grievance, so get to your union right away.
If your union cannot help you, you may be able to pursue a claim alleging a violation of the laws mentioned above. Actually, you can do this even if your union can help you. There are many, many considerations in such an action. The Avvo board is not really set up to handle the kind of detailed analysis that is needed in your situation. Avvo works best for short, specific questions that allow for short, specific answers. Perhaps more importantly, anyone can read the discussions on Avvo so they are not confidential. The employer or whomever is involved in the dispute with can read everything written here.
Employment law is complicated and fact specific. To find a plaintiffs employment attorney, please go to the web site of the California Employment Lawyers Association (CELA) www.cela.org. CELA is the largest and most influential bar association in the state for attorneys who represent working people. You can search for attorneys by practice area and location.
*** All legal actions have time limits, called statutes of limitation. If you miss the deadline for filing your claim, you will lose the opportunity to pursue your case. Please consult with an experienced employment attorney as soon as possible to better preserve your rights. *** Marilynn Mika Spencer provides information on Avvo as a service to the public, primarily when general information may be of assistance. Avvo is not an appropriate forum for an in-depth response or a detailed analysis. These comments are for information only and should not be considered legal advice. Legal advice must pertain to specific, detailed facts. No attorney-client relationship is created based on this information exchange. *** Marilynn Mika Spencer is licensed to practice law before all state and federal courts in California, and can appear before administrative agencies throughout the country. She is eligible to represent clients in other states on a pro hac vice basis. ***
First, I believe that your asthma would qualify as a medical disability and this is a path that certainly could be pursued. Perhaps, more importantly, which I don't believe other attorneys have addressed is that you state that you are in a Union. The way the process works is the Union enters into a contract with the company on your behalf. These contracts are very specific and normally well drafted. Your Union has a duty and obligation to step up to the plate and represent you in your best interests. The Union will have shop stewards for you to report to and grievance committees and expert attotrneys available to address your needs.
I hope this is helpful.
John N. Kitta