I'm asking this for a friend who has been extremely sick over the past few days, and contacted her manager at her workplace, which assigns weekly schedules to each employee. The manager in question promised that she wouldn't be assigned any hours at all over the week, yet when she checked her schedule today she was assigned a pretty similar weekly assignment. This could be an error, of course, but if it's not is there anything to protect her from being fired if she skips work, when promised she could?

  • Its the United States - she can be fired for any or no reason.
    – Dale M
    Commented Jan 21, 2019 at 0:30
  • 1
    @Dale M IF the FMLA applies, firing would be a prohibited retaliation. Commented Jan 21, 2019 at 0:52

1 Answer 1


Such a promise is not a contract, and is probably not binding on the employer. However, under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) your friend should be entitled to unpaid leave in such a case. The act provides that

eligible employees of covered employers [may] take unpaid, job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons with continuation of group health insurance coverage under the same terms and conditions as if the employee had not taken leave. Eligible employees are entitled to:

  • Twelve workweeks of leave in a 12-month period for:


  • to care for the employee’s spouse, child, or parent who has a serious health condition;
  • a serious health condition that makes the employee unable to perform the essential functions of his or her job;

Note that according to the Wikipedia article the FMLA only appies to:

employers of 50 or more employees

(The 50 employee threshold does not apply to public agency employees and local educational agencies.)

and is further restricted in that:

Employees must have worked over 12 months and 1250 hours in the last year (around 25 hours a week).

If the FMLA applies, then:

Employees or the Secretary of Labor can bring enforcement actions, but there is no right to a jury for reinstatement claims. Employees can seek damages for lost wages and benefits, or the cost of child care, plus an equal amount of liquidated damages unless an employer can show it acted in good faith and reasonable cause to believe it was not breaking the law. There is a two-year limit on bringing claims, or three years for willful violations.

When the leave is oveer, the employee has rights of return:

After unpaid leave, an employee generally has the right to return to his or her job, except for employees who are in the top 10% of highest paid ...

Specifically, a covered emploee has the right to

  • the same group health insurance benefits, including employer contributions to premiums, that would exist if the employee were not on leave.

  • restoration to the same position upon return to work. If the same position is unavailable, the employer must provide the worker with a position that is substantially equal in pay, benefits, and responsibility.

  • protection of employee benefits while on leave. An employee is entitled to reinstatement of all benefits to which the employee was entitled before going on leave.

  • protection of the employee to not have their rights under the Act interfered with or denied by an employer.

  • protection of the employee from retaliation by an employer for exercising rights under the Act.

  • intermittent FMLA leave for his or her own serious health condition, or the serious health condition of a family member. This includes occasional leave for doctors’ appointments for a chronic condition, treatment (e.g., physical therapy, psychological counseling, chemotherapy), or temporary periods of incapacity (e.g., severe morning sickness, asthma attack).

A number of US states have passed laws reducing the number of employees needed for an employer to be covered, increasing the leave period, providing paid leave in some cases, or otherwise providing greater benefits than the Federal FMLA. These vary by state.

The employer may require the employee to use vacation time for the leave period. The employer may choose to provide more generous benefits than the FMLA requires. T%he employer can require the employee to give advance notice when this is practical, and to submit a claim in writing, with medical verification.

FMLA rights are binding when they apply, whether the employer made a promise or not.

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