Disease Discrimination in Employment

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 What Is Disease Discrimination?

The term “disease discrimination” refers to situations in a workplace where an employee or applicant for employment is treated differently from other employees or potential employees based on a disease. In many cases, the disease may even be disabling in nature. Importantly, disease discrimination falls under the umbrella of employment law.

Employment laws refer to a broad range of legal issues that are associated with employees, employers, and safety conditions in the workplace. Although most employment laws are applied to cases involving workplace discrimination, other employment laws provide guidance when creating items such as company policies and employee handbooks.

The general purpose of employment law is to protect all individuals that make up part of the American workforce. As such, employment laws serve to:

  • Establish legal protection for employees who are involved disputes with a colleague, an employer, or a company;
  • Ensure that businesses do not discriminate against prospective job candidates, as well as current employees, in the interviewing, hiring, promoting, and/or terminating process;
  • Grant specific legal rights to workers who are self-employed, or who are considered to be independent contractors; and
  • Ensure that volunteers and interns are legally protected against sexual harassment, discrimination, and/or retaliation in the workplace.

In a disease workplace discrimination case, a person may be denied employment, denied benefits, or even terminated based solely on their status as having a disease-related condition. It is important to note that it is illegal under employment laws to discriminate against an individual with a disease-related condition, and discriminatory acts can lead to serious legal consequences for the discriminator.

It is also important to note that there are both federal and state laws that prohibit employers from practicing discrimination in the workplace. As such, it is every employer’s duty to ensure that every employee or applicant is treated fairly and equally. Classes that are specifically protected from discrimination in the workplace include:

  • Race or color;
  • National origin;
  • Sex or gender identity;
  • Religious beliefs, or lack thereof;
  • Political affiliation;
  • Age;
  • Disability or medical conditions, such as disease-related conditions;
  • Pregnancy; and/or
  • Sexual orientation.

Once again, discrimination occurs when an employee or prospective employee is treated less favorably than other employees or prospective employees, because of their belonging to one or more protected classes. Thus, disease discrimination can occur at any time, beginning when a person is looking for a job and ending after they have been hired as an employee.

In some cases, the discriminatory act can occur even if a disease has not manifested. For example, some diseases demonstrate certain indicators in a person’s genetic information. Genetic tests may reveal that the person has a higher probability of manifesting a disease. If an employer uses such genetic information to discriminate against them, it is known as genetic discrimination, which is also an act prohibited by federal and most state laws.

What Types of Diseases Are Commonly Subject to Discrimination?

Once again, disease discrimination is a type of discrimination that occurs when an individual or company discriminates against another individual based on a disease-related condition. Disease discrimination often occurs in the workplace, such as when an employer treats an employee differently than the others based on their disease-related medical condition or genetic profile.

For instance, if an employment sponsored insurance plan drops their coverage of an individual after that individual is discovered to have a genetic disposition towards breast cancer, such an action could be determined to be genetic discrimination.

On the other hand, if the individual loses benefits or is terminated from employment based on them having a disease-related medical condition, that is also workplace discrimination. In short, genetic and medical information cannot be used in a discriminatory manner.

To put it simply, employers cannot discriminate when imposing work conditions or privileges, especially in cases involving a protected class, such as those that have a disease-related medical condition. Additionally, employers cannot discriminate when determining wages, bonuses, or time off. Examples of otter common acts that can constitute workplace discrimination include:

  • Hiring, firing, or forced retirement of an employee based only on their disease;
  • Refusing to hire someone based on their disease;
  • Using language in job advertisements and recruitment materials that will deter candidates of protected classes, such as stating that the applicant must be able to lift a certain amount of weight when that is not relevant to the position;
  • Granting benefits to one group but not another, despite the fact that both groups do the same type of work;
  • Withholding salary or wages;
  • Decreasing health and medical benefits to those with a disease-related medical condition;
  • Forcing someone to work under harsh and/or unreasonable conditions;
  • Asking the employee to waive their right to sue in exchange for severance pay at the end of employment; and
  • Disputes regarding hours worked, such as denying overtime and vacation pay when they would otherwise be entitled.

Most disease discrimination cases involve serious medical diseases. Disease discrimination cases can often involve diseases that are life-threatening or that require special accommodations for the person at work. Examples of common types of disease discrimination claims may involve medical conditions, such as:

  • Multiple Sclerosis (“MS”);
  • Sickle Cell;
  • Diabetes;
  • Cancer; and/or
  • Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (“AIDS”) or human immunodeficiency virus (“HIV”).

What If I Have Been Discriminated against Based on a Disease?

If you believe that you have experienced disease discrimination and would like to make a legal claim, it is important to gather all evidence that you believe would be useful when filing a civil employment discrimination lawsuit. Examples of evidence that could be helpful in a disease discrimination case include:

  • Medical forms, documents, and related paperwork that demonstrate the injured party’s (i.e. the “plaintiff”) medical condition; and
  • Any and all paperwork or communications regarding any actions taken by the party which the discriminated person believes discriminated against them.

If an individual is successful in their discrimination lawsuit, employment laws provide serious legal consequences for cases involving discrimination against those with a disability. Depending on the exact facts of the civil discrimination lawsuit, legal remedies for discrimination may include:

  • A damages award for losses caused by the discrimination, such as reimbursing the injured party (i.e. the “plaintiff”) for their lost wages and other costs;
  • Reinstatement of the employee’s benefits
  • Reinstatement of the employee to a previous position, in cases where the discrimination led to wrongful termination; and/or
  • Sanctions for the employer responsible for the discrimination.

It is important for all employees to be aware of their legal rights and protections under both state and federal laws. In most cases, before an individual may initiate a private civil lawsuit against their employer for disease discrimination, a discrimination case first needs to be filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”).

The EEOC is the federal agency that enforces federal laws against employment discrimination and harassment. In doing so, the EEOC will receive worker’s complaints regarding employment discrimination and perform an investigation on the employee’s behalf. Then, if the EEOC finds evidence that discrimination occurred, the EEOC may then pursue charges against the employer on the employee’s behalf.

However, if the remedy provided by the EEOC is insufficient, then the individual that was discriminated against may then ask for permission to continue with filing a discrimination claim against their employer.

Should I Hire a Lawyer for Help with a Disease Discrimination Case?

If you believe that you have been subjected to disease discrimination, it is in your best interests to immediately consult with an experienced discrimination attorney. An experienced discrimination attorney will be knowledgeable regarding both federal and state anti-discrimination laws.

Further, an experienced discrimination attorney will be able to help you report any discriminatory acts to the EEOC or appropriate agency. Then, if the remedy is insufficient to cover your damages that you suffered as a result of the discriminatory act, an attorney can initiate a civil lawsuit on your behalf against the discriminator. Finally, an attorney will also be able to represent you in court, as necessary.

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