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What is Medical Discrimination in the Workplace?

Table of Contents for Specific Topics

Employers in the United States are not permitted to discriminate against employees on the basis of their medical conditions. The Family and Medical Leave Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act are federal laws that dictate the guidelines surrounding medical and disability discrimination. Employers cannot use medical conditions as a motivation for any employment decisions including hiring, training promotions and demotions, assignments, or firing.


What is Medical Condition Discrimination?

Medical condition discrimination occurs when an employer takes adverse employment action against someone or treats them differently due to their existing or future medical conditions. This can occur when an employer refuses to hire someone who has an obvious disability. They may also hire someone with a disability and then harass them or refuse to provide reasonable accommodations. Sometimes, an employee may disclose a medical condition later in their employment and then face demotion or termination.


Examples of Medical Discrimination in the Workplace

Employers may not discriminate against people due to their medical conditions at any point during the hiring process including:

  • Job advertisements
  • Recruitment
  • Interviews
  • Hiring decisions

Ways in which employers illegally discriminate against employees due to their medical conditions include but are not limited to:

  • Testing and training designed to weed out people with certain health conditions
  • Paying a disabled employee less than their abled coworkers in the same position
  • Denying company health insurance based on an employee’s medical history
  • Refusing to allow an employee with diabetes to eat or take insulin while on the clock
  • Refusing an employee’s request to take leave to seek treatment
  • Retaliating against an employee for taking leave due to a medical condition
  • Denying an employee’s request for reasonable accommodations
  • Mocking an employee for their medical condition
  • Demoting an employee for developing a medical condition
  • Denying a raise or promotion based on a medical condition
  • Terminating an employee due to a medical condition


What is a Medical Condition?

Any ailment or illness that has an effect on a person’s wellbeing can be considered a medical condition. Some are relatively minor such as nearsightedness or a food allergy, and others can be much more severe such as pregnancy, cancer, or muscular dystrophy.


What are Common Medical Conditions?

There are many different types of medical conditions that may result in discrimination in the workplace such as:

  • ADHD
  • Asthma
  • Blindness
  • Cancer
  • Carpal Tunnel
  • Deafness
  • Depression
  • Diabetes
  • Epilepsy
  • Heart Disease
  • High Blood Pressure
  • Loss of Limb
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Muscular Dystrophy
  • Parkinson’s
  • Paralysis
  • Pregnancy
  • Sensory Hypersensitivity
  • Stroke

What is a Perceived Medical Condition?

There are times when an employer might assume that an employee has a medical condition even though they do not. This may be due to a stereotype, a rumor, or just a misunderstanding. The employer may then go on to discriminate against the employee based on that assumption. This is known as discriminating against perceived medical condition.


What Laws are Designed to Prevent Medical Condition Discrimination at Work?

On a state level, the California Fair Employment and Housing Act was created to fight against medical discrimination. On a federal level, there are several laws to protect workers:

  • Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
  • Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
  • Rehabilitation Act (Rehab Act)
  • Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA)

The FMLA allows for covered employees to take necessary leave without risking their jobs. The ADA protects employees with mental or physical disabilities. The Rehab Act is similar to the ADA. GINA prevents employers from using a person’s genetic information against them.


Americans with Disabilities Act

The ADA specifically applies to employers in the private sector with fifteen or more employees. Those employers may not discriminate against people with disabilities. The ADA defines a disability as a physical or mental impairment that limits a person’s major life activities but does not strictly define what a major life activity is. It is important to note that different laws and organizations may have different ways of defining what a disability is. Some of these definitions may contradict each other or qualifying for one may disqualify someone from another. People with disabilities should be careful and research all options available.


Reasonable Accommodations Under the ADA

Under the ADA, employers must provide employees with reasonable accommodations for disabilities when requested. Employers are required to interact with the employee to find the best accommodation. Some common accommodations may include:

  • Extra breaks
  • Extra sick days
  • Flexible scheduling and work requirements
  • Ergonomic equipment
  • Screen readers
  • Sign language interpreters

Employers may also consult the Job Accommodation Network at the Department of Labor for assistance.


Rehab Act & Medical Discrimination

The Rehabilitation Act is similar to the Americans with Disabilities Act in its efforts to protect employees with disabilities from discrimination. However, the Rehab Act applies to all federal government employers with any number of employees.


FMLA & Medical Discrimination

The Family and Medical Leave Act applies to private employers with at least 50 employees as well as federal government agencies with any employees. FMLA protects employees with disabilities by providing 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year to tend to medical related needs. It is not necessarily a protection against discrimination so much as it is job protection. However, it can go hand in hand with the ADA which does safeguard against discrimination but does not extend to those unable to perform their jobs completely like FMLA.


FEHA and Medical Discrimination in the Workplace

California state law has its own regulations regarding medical discrimination. The Fair Employment and Housing Act applies to employers with five or more employees. Employers are prohibited from discriminating against workers with disabilities, medical conditions, or mental impairments. The FEHA protects against discrimination at any point in the employment process including hiring, promotions and demotions, pay rates, or terminations.


GINA and Medical Discrimination in the Workplace

Employers with 15 or more employees are bound by the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act. This means that they are not allowed to discriminate against employees on the basis of family history, genetic characteristics, or genetic testing. If someone has a family history of cancer, their employer cannot take adverse employment action against them on the assumption that they will also develop cancer.


Should an Employee Discuss Their Medical Condition with Their Employer?

Everyone has the right to decide who knows what about their health. There may be many pros and cons to disclosing a disability with an employer depending on the details of the situation. Some disabilities are apparent on their own. Sometimes it may be necessary to disclose information in order to receive accommodations or FMLA leave.


Is it Medical Discrimination if an Employer Asks You to Take a Medical Exam

Employers are only permitted to have prospective employees undertake a medical exam if they ask it of all employees and it is necessary for the job itself. Firefighters are an example of a job that may require a medical exam. Employers are also not permitted to ask questions about a perspective employee’s health. However, they are permitted to ask specific questions related to the essential functions of the job. This may include asking if the applicant can perform heavy lifting or climb up and down stairs.


Steps to Take If an Employee Experiences Medical Discrimination or Retaliation at Work

Although medical discrimination is illegal, it still happens. Fortunately, there are options and steps that an employee can take in those situations.


How to File a Complaint If Medical Discrimination is Experienced

There are many ways in which an employer may break medical discrimination laws. Each law has its own options and steps for employees to take.

Americans with Disabilities Act – When an employer violates the ADA, employees can file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission within 180 days. This complaint must be filed before the matter can be taken to court. Some state and local laws may provide extensions for the time limit in which the complaint must be filed.

The Rehabilitation Act – When an employer violates the Rehab Act, federal employees can file a complaint with their office’s corresponding Equal Employment Opportunity office within 45 days. This complaint must be filed before the matter can be taken to court.

Family and Medical Leave Act – When an employer violates the FMLA, employees can either file a complaint with the Secretary of Labor through the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division. Employees in this situation also have the option to directly file a lawsuit within two years.


Statute of Limitations on Filing a Medical Discrimination Claim

When filing an employment discrimination complaint with the EEOC, employees have 180 days from the date in which the discrimination occurred. There are some state laws that may extend that limit and so it is important to know what the specific deadline is in your area.

When filing a claim regarding FMLA, employees have two years from the date in which the violation occurred. Employees can also file a complaint with the Secretary of Labor, but this will not result in any extensions for filing a claim.


Damages That Can Be Collected in a Medical Discrimination Claim

Employees may be eligible for various types of compensation from medical discrimination cases. This may include:

  • Administrative costs
  • Emotional distress
  • Insurance premiums
  • Legal fees
  • Lost wages
  • Medical Costs
  • Pain and suffering
  • Policy changes
  • Reinstatement


Contact Mesriani Law Group If You Have Been a Victim of Medical Discrimination at Work

People with disabilities, medical conditions, and family health issues have the right to work in an environment free of discrimination. It is against the law for employers to harass or discriminate against employees due to existing, possible, or perceived medical conditions or to deny them their right to reasonable accommodations or FMLA leave. When employers violate these laws, legal action may need to be taken. No one should have to face these things alone. Our employment attorneys are experienced, hardworking, and dedicated to guiding our clients through the legal process and fighting to get them the compensation they deserve. If you have been the victim of medical discrimination in the workplace, call Mesriani Law Group for a free consultation.


Medical Condition Discrimination FAQs

What is medical discrimination?

Medical discrimination at work is when employers treat some employees differently than others on the basis of a medical condition. This can include firing someone for being ill, refusing to provide a disabled employee with reasonable accommodations, or denying an eligible employee their right to take FMLA leave. Harassment or creating a hostile work environment for an employee due to their medical condition is also discrimination. The employee does not have to actually have the medical condition in question. Sometimes an employer will be told an employee has a condition or believes that they are at risk of developing one and will discriminate against them based on the perceived medical condition.

What are the 3 types of discrimination?

There are several ways in which employers might discriminate against employees due to medical conditions such as: The Hiring Process – When employers post a job application that lists unrelated health standards as requirements or force prospective employees to undergo medical screening as part of the application process, they are in violation of anti-medical discrimination laws. Work Environment – Some employers may perpetuate harassment or ostracization of employees due to their medical conditions. They may also refuse to provide reasonable accommodations that would not cause undue hardship such as assistive equipment or not allowing a diabetic employee to take snack and insulin breaks. Adverse Employment Action – A common form of medical discrimination is when employees are retaliated against for needing accommodations or taking FMLA leave. Employees may also face discrimination-based demotions or even termination due to their medical conditions.

How do you prove medical discrimination in the workplace?

One of the strongest forms of evidence is clear documentation. This is why it is advised to send requests and complaints in the workplace via email. It is always good to have a concise record of what was said, when it was sent, and who it was sent to. When filing a complaint, it is important to be as detailed as possible. Dates, times, the names of the people involved as well as any witnesses should be included.

What questions can employers ask about medical conditions?

During the hiring process, employers are permitted to ask questions that are directly relevant to the essential functions of the job. If a movie theater is hiring for someone to work at their concession stand, they may be allowed to ask applicants if they will be able to lift and carry bags of popcorn kernels and soda syrup boxes that can weigh up to 50 pounds. Employers are not permitted to ask general questions about an applicant’s health or medical history. When an employee is asking for reasonable accommodations for a disability or requesting FMLA leave, their employer may be permitted to require a confirmation letter from the employee’s doctor confirming that it is necessary. Employers are not entitled to specific details of the employee’s medical condition. However, in regards to accommodations, they may be permitted to ask questions that will help them provide the most suitable option for the employee.

About the Author
Picture of Rodney Mesriani
Rodney Mesriani

Rodney Mesriani is the principal partner of the Los Angeles and Santa Monica based Mesriani Law Group. He specializes in personal injury and employment law while also being an accomplished litigator and trial attorney. Rodney is an aggressive negotiator and a well-known and respected attorney in the areas of practice he specializes in.

He earned his Bachelor of Science degree in Accounting from California State University Northridge before attending Southwestern School of Law where he received his Juris Doctorate. While being an accomplished personal injury and employment lawyer, Rodney Mesriani has made it a point to attend numerous State Sponsored MCLE events and seminars over the years as a law practitioner to be informed of the latest laws and litigation strategies.



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