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I received this phone call from an employee who lost her job: One her way to work, she received a phone call regarding her mother having an emergency. About an hour and a half being late to work, the employee gave her boss a call to inform him about her condition and the reason she was late to work. The boss responded “We have already terminated you because you did not show up to work!"
Can you be legally fired for being late to work?
In California, and majority of States, the answer is yes, of course! California law adopts the at will employment meaning that you can be terminated for any reason or no reason at all. Your employer can terminate you for not liking your shoes or simply because he had a fight with his wife and was in a very bad mood.
Of course, the at-will employment principle in California has exceptions. The following scenarios might protect you, under certain circumstances, from getting fired:
Fair Labor Standards Act: If you are properly exempt from overtime compensation requirements, then this means you are on a salary. Even if you are late, your employer has to pay you for a full day and you should therefore receive your full salary.
If your employer deducts your wages for being late, you might be misclassified under the Fair Labor Standards Act. You could sue your employer for back pay including overtime, penalties, and attorneys’ fees.
If you suffer from a physical or medical condition that limits a major life activity, then you might be “disabled" under the FEHA. Being disabled requires your employe to provide you reasonable accommodations. Your employer also has a duty to engage in interactive process to inquire about and learn more about your disability in order to know what accommodations you might need.
Of course, if your employe can show that you cannot perform your duties even with accommodations, then you have no case.
Family and Medical Leave: If your company has 50 or more employees within a 75 mile radius, you’ve worked at least a year, and you’ve worked at least 1,250 hours in the last 12 months, you may be covered under the Family and Medical Leave Act. This law gives you up to 12 weeks of continuous or intermittent leave to deal with a serious medical condition of an immediate family member or you. But you have to apply in advance, as soon as you know about the need for the leave.
If an immediate family member or you have an emergency relating to a serious medical condition, you may be covered even if you haven’t applied for leave in advance. However, you need to call in as soon as possible and do the FMLA paper work.