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If my doctor places me on short-term state disability, can my employer fire me if their own disability company denies my claim?

Fontana, CA |

I have MS. I'm on short-term state disability right now. I've been working for a large telecommunications company as a CSR and Sales rep in a call center for about 5 years. I was diagnosed with MS 1 year after I started working there. Since then I have taken short term disability leave at least twice each year. When the MS flares up I get double vision, so its hard to read a computer screen, and extreme fatigue. Also I have problems concentrating and short term memory loss, so talking to customers is very hard. My claims have always been approved until now. My doctor has sent them numerous office visit notes on what he has observed and why I can't perform my job functions. They have denied my claim and I now must appeal it. If my appeal is denied can I be fired?

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The short answer to your specific question is no. Whether or not the short term disability (STD) insurer accepts or denies your claim does not, in itself, affect the employer's obligation to work with you to keep you employed. Your employer appears to have been doing the right thing so far. It must work with you to find a way to accommodate your restrictions, which can include the granting of unpaid leave as discussed in some of the other answers. The employer's duty to accommodate you is limited. First, if the accommodation would constitute an undue hardship, the employer is not required to go that far. However, undue hardship is much more than mere inconvenience. Given the size of your employer and the nature of your job, it appears it would be difficult to establish undue hardship for granting defined periods of leave to you. The second way the employer can avoid its obligation to reasonably accommodate you is if it can establish that you would be a danger to yourself or others. Again, given the nature of your job, it appears that is unlikely. The third way an employer can avoid the obligation to accommodate your restrictions is if you cannot establish that you are ready, willing and able to work, even with accommodation. In other words, if you get to the point where you are incapable of returning to work after defined periods of unpaid leave because you are simply incapable of physically doing the essential functions of your job, and there are no ways to reasonable accommodate the restrictions placed on you, then the employer may terminate you without legal recourse. Thus, you walk a fine line when you push to get disability payouts. It is fully acceptable for you to receive money from a STD insurance policy and to also claim you can presently work with accommodation, or that you will be able to return to work after a defined unpaid leave. However you want to be careful not to so aggressively pursue the disability insurance that you make a clear case that you are so disabled that you will never be able to return to work with reasonable accommodation. Best of luck to you.

Pedersen Heck McQueen, APLC is an employee rights firm located in Irvine, California. We practice in all Southern California courts.

This answer should not be construed to create any attorney-client relationship. Such a relationship can be formed only through the mutual execution of an attorney-client agreement. The answer given is based on the extremely limited facts provided and the proper course of action might change significantly with the introduction of other facts. All who read this answer should not rely on the answer to govern their conduct. Please seek the advice of competent counsel after disclosing all facts to that attorney. This answer is intended for California residents only. The answering party is only licensed to practice in the State of California.


Your employer is obligated to work with you to determine if they can accommodate any reasonable requests such as short term leave with a return to work, placing you in available alternate position or other reasonable requests. Unfortunately, you must also show that, with such reasonable accommodation, you will be able to return to work. You should consult an employment attorney now to determine the best course of action from here.

Glotzer & Sweat, LLP handles disability discrimination claims in California:

Main Office: 280 S. Beverly Drive, Suite 302, Beverly Hills, CA 90212 (Offices in West Covina, Ontario, Palmdale/Lancaster, Los Angeles and San Diego). Statewide Toll Free #866-229-0101

Nothing in this communication should be construed as creating an attorney client relationship. This is for informational purposes only. Attorney will take no action on your behalf unless and until a written retainer agreement is signed. There are strict time deadlines on filing claims and, as such, you are advised to consult with and retain an attorney immediately to file such claims timely or you will lose any right to recovery.


Whether your disability claim is approved or denied has little, if any, relevance to your employment with the company. The employer has an obligation to provide reasonable accommodations to you condition, which include medical leave of absence of limited duration. At this point you, you should keep your employer informed diligently of your medical condition and need for accommodations such as time off in the future.
You should also consider talking to the doctor about requesting through medical note special computer screen or other assistive devices that might help reduce strain on your eyes and help you with your MS symptoms.


Arkady Itkin

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