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Brandon M.
Brandon M., Counselor at Law
Category: California Employment Law
Satisfied Customers: 12241
Experience:  Licensed attorney
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Customer Question

I was ill last year missing 30 days of work. I was on disability for a short time.
Now my Employer is not renewing my contract and my position has been eliminated.
Do I have recourse here?

Submitted: 5 years ago.
Category: Employment Law
Expert:  Brandon M. replied 5 years ago.
Hello there:

your question seems to imply that your contract is not being renewed due to your 30 days of illness last year. Do we know if that is the reason behind the decision?
Customer: replied 5 years ago.
Did you receive my reply?
Expert:  Brandon M. replied 5 years ago.
I did not receive your reply. Would you mind reposting it?
Customer: replied 5 years ago.
They would never say that my non-renewal of employment was due to my illness, which was mental health in nature. My employers were supportive at first, but grew tired of the situation. The 30 days of absence is an estimate.

I was originally hired to replace someone retiring, but that employee had not left after almost 4 years.
Expert:  Brandon M. replied 5 years ago.
What line of work are you in?
Customer: replied 5 years ago.
Talent Agent in Los Angeles
Expert:  Brandon M. replied 5 years ago.
I apologize for the invasiveness of these questions, but I am just trying to get a picture of the situation here. I have not forgotten your original question, and each of these follow-up questions are designed to help me give you the best answer possible. If you don't mind my asking, what is the nature of the mental health issue with which you have been afflicted?
Customer: replied 5 years ago.
I have a Personality Disorder with ADD and Depression.
Expert:  Brandon M. replied 5 years ago.
These are probably my last questions: I would certainly understand why you suspect that your health was a factor in the non-renewal of your contract. I also understand that there is no smoking gun in this situation (there rare is); oftentimes, there is just a "vibe" that can be difficult to articulate. I also accept that evidence of the motive may not be visible on the surface, but might become visible in the course of litigation.

1. right now, even if it is not conclusive, what evidence do we have of the motive for non-renewal?

2. I understand that you missed approximately 30 days on the job last year, but missing work is not always problematic. How did this absence impact your ability to perform your function with the employer?
Customer: replied 5 years ago.
I had an emotional breakdown at the office after feeling ambushed in a meeting.
I was in a state of paranoia.
I posed some questions to my Employer that were not received well and during the next 4 months I was was acknowledged less and less until they let me go.

While absent from work I continued to do my job from home until I was informed not to.
They didn't want a lawsuit.
Expert:  Brandon M. replied 5 years ago.
Your original question is what recourse you might have.

It's a tough situation because (1) California is an employment-at-will state, (2) you were subject to a contract term, and (3) your health issues appear to have impaired your ability to function in your job.

Generally speaking, California is an employment-at-will state, which means that an employer or employee can terminate the employment relationship at most any time and for most any reason. There are exceptions; for example, an employer cannot terminate an employee based on their disability (including most mental health issues), but that only applies to situations where the employee can perform their work with reasonable accommodations.

Employment contacts work a bit differently. The employer and the employee can contract around the employment-at-will doctrine, within certain confines. The employer is still prohibited from engaging in illegal forms of discrimination (e.g. disability), however it generally shifts the issue away from the employment doctrine and toward an Americans with Disabilities Act issue. In other words, if an employer contracts with a new person because it was discovered that the first person assigned to the job suffered from bipolar disorder, and if that disorder (if reasonably accommodated) would not interfere with the first person's ability to perform the task, that would typically be enough to run afoul of the ADA.

The first concern that I would have for your case is that I am not confident, based on the information presented, that reasonable accommodations would allow you to perform your work at the standard required of the job. You can evaluate for yourself if that is the case.

The second concern is evidentiary. Even if reasonable accommodations would allow you to perform the job, those accommodations would have to be declined upon request or you would have to prove that, more like than not, you were declined for reinstatement due to the discovery of your disability.

So it has a lot of challenges. It's not that the law won't protect someone suffering from these sorts of mental health issues, but the reach of that protection is somewhat limited.

I understand that you may have follow-up questions. Let me know if I may be of further assistance. Thank you.

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