Here is a recent question posed by an Elephants at Work reader about being terminated from her job unexpectedly after accepting a job and not passing her physical exam.

Jessica: I have a question just to see if you can answer it. My employer that I was working for told me that they did not have a position for me because their company doctor put me on light duty restrictions. They hired me and did not know light duty was on my physical. When I asked them about being terminated she said it was more like a hire error or separation. Is there any way I could draw my unemployment because she said I was terminated but she said it was more like a separation and it would not be on my record as termination.

I have another question. When they called me in the human resources office, I was told I was under light duty restrictions by the company doctor who did the physical. They never gave me a copy of it or showed me in writing about the restrictions. I was told that someone would call me back. When they called me back and told me that they did not have a position for me because I was under the restrictions, I first thought it was for my back then they changed it and said it was because of the medication I was taking. They said it was a large amount. My doctor faxed over a sheet to let them know I was no longer taking the medication. They are giving me the run around about it. I asked them was I fired terminated or laid off.


Answer: Let’s break this situation down into a several parts.

Physicals and the Hiring Process

Most companies who require a physical for a position ask candidates to complete it before being hired – especially if the job is physically demanding. For example, if you are required to lift over 50 lbs. in the job description, then a company will want to clear you for that type of work before hiring you.

In your situation, it seems the company extended an offer to you or hired you and then asked you to have a physical with the company doctor before working. During that physical, the doctor either found or got information from you that you could not do the job without restrictions.

I realize that you tried to give the company doctor new information about your health and the company did not reinstate their offer. The company probably will not change their mind because they want to decrease their risk.

Companies are not required to hire you into a position if you have restrictions that the company cannot or does not want to meet.

If you were a working full-time employee and were hurt and you could return to work with restrictions, the situation may be different. In this situation, if the company could accommodate the restriction, it would be in the company’s best interest to have you to return to work. If the company could not accommodate you, depending on the state you are in and the company policies you may be eligible for disability and/or possibly be terminated because there is not a job you could do.

Can the Company Terminate Me?

Yes, the company can rescind an offer to hire you before putting you to work. The majority of U.S. states view the employment relationship as “At-will Employment”. This type of relationship lets either party (you or the company) to break the relationship without liability if there is no contract or bargaining unit in place.

Often companies will extend job offers to candidates that depend on certain conditions being met, such as:

  1. A negative drug test
  2. Company physical OK’s you for work
  3. References check are positive

When those conditions are not met, the companies will separate the candidate from the company if the candidate has already entered them into their internal tracking system. The term “hire error” is a code that Human Resources uses in their system to define the type of termination. See my article on different types of terminations: Interviewing or Job Applications: What do I say if I was fired?

In your case, the company is using “hire error” to say the company extended an offer to you for a position that you could not do based on the company doctor’s evaluation. Extending an offer to you prematurely was their error, not yours.

Unemployment: Will I get it?

You may or may not be eligible for unemployment depending on the state live in and if you have exhausted your unemployment benefits.

Many states require you to have a qualifying period. The qualifying period is a minimum number of hours, pay or some other formula your state will decide your eligibility.

Depending on the state rules, the qualifying period may or may not be tied to a single employer. For example in New York State, you would be eligible for unemployment benefits provided you met the qualifying period with another company.

The best way to know after being terminated f you qualify is to go down to the unemployment office and file a claim. Good luck!