What types of medical conditions are protected from discrimination by California law?
It is illegal for an employer to treat an employee or applicant negatively because they have a medical condition. Applying separate, negative standards to them is unlawful. It is contrary to both California and federal law.
If you have applied for a job and were turned down because you are battling a medical condition, your rights may have been violated. If your employer decided to let you go because you were diagnosed with cancer, you may have a claim for redress.
Employers are required to provide reasonable accommodation to employees with a medical condition. The obligation continues unless this would cause them undue hardship. If you have been discriminated against by your employer or prospective employer, you can file a lawsuit against them for damages.
At Eldessouky Law, we represent employees who have experienced all forms of discrimination. We believe that disabled individuals should be given the same chance to perform work they are qualified for. Just like able-bodied individuals.
Whether you were denied employment, a promotion or wrongfully terminated due to a medical condition, we can help. Reach out to us immediately and let our medical condition discrimination attorneys assert your rights on your behalf.
What protection exists under California and federal law for persons with medical conditions?
In most cases, it is unlawful for employers to fire an employee or refuse to hire applicants because of their medical condition. California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) also prohibit interview questions that seek to elicit or expose information about a medical condition or disability.
Employers may have prejudices or biases about an individual’s abilities as a result. These may be based on stereotypes about the individual’s medical condition. As such, it is illegal to ask questions relating to a medical condition or disability in an interview.
These laws protect qualified individuals who have a medical condition. Or who have a physical or mental disability, from discrimination on that basis. A qualified individual is someone who can perform the essential functions of a job. They should be able to do so with or without reasonable accommodation. Some of the discriminatory conduct which the law exists to prevent include:
- Refusing to hire
- Refusing promotion, a raise or earned benefits
- Refusing to select for a training program
- Refusing to provide a reasonable accommodation
- Any health impairment associated with a diagnosis of cancer. This includes a record or history of cancer. It also covers “any health impairment related to or associated with a diagnosis of cancer”. If the “person has been rehabilitated or cured, based on competent medical evidence” (2 Cal. Code Regs. §7293.6(g)).
- Genetic characteristics (including Lou Gherig’s disease or heart disease) which means either:
- Genes or chromosomes that are known to be a cause of disease or disorder in one’s children or that may increase the risk of disease; or
- Inherited characteristics that are known to be a cause of disease or disorder or that may increase the risk.
- Reassignment to a vacant position more compatible to the employee’s abilities
- Restructuring the job
- Adjustments to training materials
- Providing readers or interpreters
- Allowing a service animal to support the employee
- Making the workplace more accessible by installing ramps etc.
- Modifying equipment, work policies, work schedules etc.
- The nature and cost of the accommodation
- The type of operations in the workplace, including the composition, structure and functions of the workforce
- The financial resources of the employer
- The geographic features of the facility
The laws against medical condition discrimination also apply to assumed medical conditions. This is discrimination based on perceived medical conditions or disabilities. This means that discrimination based on a wrong belief is still unlawful.
For instance, an employer may refuse to give a job to an applicant who he wrongly believed had a history of AIDs. Even if he discovers that the information was incorrect, he would still have violated the law.
Is my medical condition protected under the law?
Usually, the first question that needs to be answered under the ADA and FEHA is whether an employee suffered from a protected disability. There’s generally no problem with this under FEHA as California’s laws are intended to be very broad.
A person suffers from a disability under FEHA if they have a qualifying medical condition. The law also applies if they have a mental disability or physical disability that “limits their ability to perform a major life activity“. That’s not a very high threshold, as Government Code §12926.1(c) provides that even working is a major life activity.
Not all medical conditions are protected though. To constitute a medical condition under FEHA, the disability must relate to:
In certain instances, medical conditions may also overlap with mental or physical disabilities. In such instances, the conditions need to come within the definition of mental and physical disabilities under FEHA or the ADA.
Must my medical condition limit a major life activity?
A common requirement for mental and physical disabilities is that they must limit or impact a major life activity. But this standard does not apply to medical conditions.
It is not necessary to show that the medical condition limits a major life activity. All this is necessary is to assess whether the person actually suffers from a qualifying medical condition.
This means persons suffering from cancer automatically qualify for protection. Cancer-related and genetic conditions described above, also automatically qualify for protection under FEHA. They do not have to show that the condition affects a given body system or a major life activity.
What is a reasonable accommodation in the workplace if I have a medical condition?
FEHA and the ADA impose an obligation on employers. They should provide reasonable accommodations for applicants and employees protected under those laws. Once the need for accommodation arises, employers must engage in a timely, good faith interactive process.
The process should determine whether a reasonable accommodation is needed. Would it help the applicant or employee perform the essential functions of the job? It should also determine what accommodations would be necessary and if they would be reasonable. Examples of reasonable accommodation include:
The obligation of the employer to discuss and provide these accommodations is limited though. It is subject to their production of “undue hardship”. If the accommodation will need unsupportable expense or difficulty, there may be undue hardship.
The question of undue hardship is not always cut and dried though. Some factors should be considered before deciding that undue hardship will result. These include:
Can I file a lawsuit against my employer for medical condition discrimination?
If you have been exposed to medical condition discrimination, you can file a lawsuit against your employer. The law usually requires that employees exhaust administrative remedies before filing a lawsuit. This could consist of filing a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
In the alternative, you could choose to file with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing. Before filing though, you may want to work with your employer to resolve the issue.
If there is no resolution, you can go ahead to file with either the EEOC or DFEH. In some cases, California law offers broader protection, so it might make more sense to file with the DFEH. For instance, FEHA applies to employers with 5 or more employees. The ADA only applies to employers with 15 or more employees.
Your medical condition discrimination lawyer can help you determine what strategy will result in the best possible conclusion for you.
Call us for help
If you suspect that you are being discriminated against on account of your medical condition, contact us immediately. You can walk in to any of our employment and labor law offices in Anaheim, Long Beach and Riverside. We also take cases from all over California. Contact us today on 714-409-8991 to set up a free and confidential case review.