An employee who was fired for going to work while sick with COVID-19 cannot pursue a disability discrimination lawsuit against her former employer, according to a May 16, 2022, court decision.
The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California found in favor of the employer because the worker’s COVID symptoms were mild and temporary and didn’t qualify as a disability under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA).
Had COVID symptoms, went to work anyway
Michelle Roman worked as a manager for Hertz Local Edition Corp. in National City, California. In 2020, she received training about company COVID-19 procedures, including that employees exhibiting COVID symptoms should not be permitted in the workplace.
However, Roman showed up at work for two days while experiencing mild COVID symptoms that she felt weren’t severe enough to be caused by the coronavirus, according to law firm Proskauer Rose.
Erring on the side of caution, she eventually took a COVID-19 test. A day later she received her results, which showed that she tested positive for COVID. She was at work at the time and immediately informed her manager, who sent her home.
After two weeks of quarantining and one negative COVID-19 test, she attempted to return to work but was told she was being fired for coming to work with COVID symptoms, which was a violation of company policy.
Mild symptoms don’t count, but ‘long COVID’ would
Roman filed a lawsuit against Hertz claiming that when she became infected with COVID-19 she suffered from a disability, which made her entitled to protection against discriminatory action under FEHA.
The court found that California law states that disability doesn’t include conditions that are mild, do not limit a major life activity and have little to no residual effects. The law pointed specifically to things like the common cold and influenza not qualifying as a disability.
Because Roman’s symptoms were mild and of short duration, the court found she didn’t have a disability and wasn’t protected from termination, so her lawsuit couldn’t move forward.
One important thing to note is that the court stated COVID-19 cases of longer duration, also known as “long COVID,” would “easily qualify as a FEHA disability.”