Termination Without Cause While on Long-Term Disability

The laws covering whether you can be terminated while recovering from long-term disability are complex.

Ordinarily, in a case in which an employee is absent from work as a result of illness or disability, the employer does not have “just cause” to instantaneously terminate the employment relationship, because a mere absence from work due to illness or disability is not a contractual breach.

Since the medical prognosis for many illnesses and disabilities can be very uncertain, when an employee is absent from work, this uncertainty can create difficulties within the workplace.

As a consequence, there are indeed some instances in which you can legally be terminated whilst on disability leave, but only as long as your employer follows the rules. The question is often asked: “When is an employer justified in terminating employment where an employee is absent from work due to a temporary, but prolonged, illness or disability?”

In fact, this question often arises in matters relating to employees who have been away from work and are receiving long-term disability benefits for protracted periods.

Generally, the fundamental issue for terminating an employee who is on long term disability is whether or not that worker has a reasonable prospect of recovering and returning to work in the foreseeable future.

Frustration of contract

Surely, at the beginning of a contract, it is assumed the employee will be fit and able to report to work. However, where an illness or disability prevents the employee from reporting to work, the contract may be “frustrated”. This means the circumstances, which are not the fault of either party, make it impossible to continue with the employment contract, and therefore the employee is excused from reporting to work, and the employer is excused from continuing to employ the employee.

The employer though will have to establish that the worker is incapable of performing the basic duties associated with his or her post, with or without modifications to accommodate restrictions; is incapable of undertaking any other productive work, and, as noted earlier, has no reasonable prospect of returning to work.

This though is subject to applicable statutory entitlements relating to termination pay and severance, and is also predicated on the type of coverage the employee, has as well as whether or not that employee is unionized.

This is because, within the unionized context, an employer’s right to terminate a disabled employee will depend on whether the dismissal deprives the worker of continued access to negotiated benefits specifically tied to the illness or disability.

One crucial consideration as it relates to termination is the period of past employment. An employment relationship that is of long-standing is not so easily frustrated. For example, an employee who has been working for an establishment for 30 years and becomes afflicted with an illness, absence for two years would not be considered being away long enough to frustrate the employment contract.

That said, the termination of an employee on long-term disability requires careful deliberation and so, an employer ought to first evaluate an employee’s prospect for recovery and return to work, as well as provisions for accommodating him or her.

When to contact a long-term disability lawyer

If your employment was terminated without cause while you were on long-term disability, you should contact a long-term disability lawyer.

If you are searching for a long-term disability lawyer in Vancouver, contact us at Tim Louis and Company. Our Vancouver long-term disability lawyer has over 25 years of experience and would be pleased to assist with your case.

Call us today to schedule a consultation.