Dealing with a serious illness that forces you to take leave from work is bad enough. Receiving a phone call from your boss telling you not to bother coming back at all can make things worse. Unfortunately, in Florida, your employer may have the right to fire you for calling in sick. No law forces employers to give employees paid or unpaid sick leave. Your employer may grant or deny sick leave absence requests at its discretion. Your rights as a terminated employee after taking sick leave depend on the circumstances.

Are You a Private or State Employee?

Private sector employers are under no obligation to give sick leave to employees, paid or unpaid. Calling in sick as a private sector employee, therefore, could result in losing your job. It will be up to the employer how to handle an employee who calls in sick. Note, however, that many private sector employers offer sick leave benefits as a perk of employment to attract job candidates. Find out if this is the case before taking sick leave.

If you work for the state, the law entitles you to use sick leave for your personal injury or illness, or if you’ve been exposed to a contagious disease that could endanger your coworkers or customers. State career service employees also have the right to take sick leave for disabilities relating to pregnancy, birth, miscarriage, or abortion. Doctor’s appointments are also grounds for sick leave as a state employee. Finally, state workers can use sick leave for loved one’s illnesses, if the loved one needs the employee’s presence.

To use your state-entitled sick leave, you may need to provide your employer with medical verification, such as a doctor’s note, regarding your need to be absent from work. You must provide this verification after missing work three days within any 30-day period (consecutive or otherwise). If you miss 10 consecutive days, your employer may require verification from your physician before allowing any additional use of sick leave or leave without pay.

Does Your Company Grant Sick Leave?

As an employee for any type of company, check your employment contract or ask your employer about sick leave rules. Your employer may offer sick leave and various protections for ill workers regardless of legal mandates. Your employer may still have the power to fire you for calling in sick, however, if you don’t take the correct steps toward requesting time off. Discuss your situation with your employer for more information before calling in to make sure it won’t lead to job termination.

Are You an At-Will Employee?

Your employer’s sick leave rules may not matter if you’re an at-will employee. Florida is an at-will state, meaning this is the default for employment relationships. As an at-will employee, your employer can lawfully fire you for a good reason, a bad reason, or without reason. Thus, even if you obey the rules for taking sick leave, your Florida employer may still have the right to terminate your employment without giving you reason or warning.

As an at-will worker, your employer does not need just cause to terminate your employment unless your contract states otherwise. Since no federal or state law prohibits employers from firing people for calling in sick, employers in Florida have the power to use this as the only reason to let workers go. This may seem unfair, although you, in turn, have the right to quit without giving notice to your employer. Many people criticize at-will employment laws for providing an imbalance of power in the workplace.

Florida’s at-will employment laws may not apply if you have a “serious” illness in the eyes of the Department of Labor. The definition of serious is relatively narrow, but if it applies to you (and your employer has at least 50 employees, you’ve worked at least one year, and you’ve worked at least 1,250 hours the past year), you will qualify for up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave. Your employer cannot fire you for taking this leave if you qualify.