Medical Discrimination And The Law

by Howard Ankin
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Imagine that you have just found out that you have a serious illness; there are a number of thoughts running through your mind. One of them is “What about work?” Everyone reacts differently to a medical diagnosis, but when it comes to the work place you may want to consider how much you share until you have gathered all the information about your illness and treatments.

After being diagnosed with any illness, especially a serious or terminal one, other areas of your life are unfortunately affected as well. When your health does affect your employment, the last thing you expect is to be confronted with harassment or the threat of losing your job, income and health benefits.

People with life threatening or chronic illness often feel that employers discriminate against them but it’s not illegal to discriminate in hiring; it’s only illegal to discriminate based on certain protected classes. The question is whether or not you disclose to an employer or HR if you are diagnosed with a serious illness such as Cancer, MS or Arthritis.

You have rights and it is important that you know what those rights are: Employment discrimination based on an employee’s medical condition is prohibited in many cases by state and federal laws. Medical discrimination can include basing decisions on hiring, firing, promotion, and job assignment on incorrect assumptions about what an employee can and can’t do. Talk to your doctor about your treatment plan, what the possible side effects are, and how they may affect your ability to perform your job. Familiarize yourself with your legal rights as a sick worker. Go over your health insurance coverage, the company policy on medical leave, and your legal rights as determined by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and the Family Medical Leave Act(FMLA). These are the primary federal laws that protect qualified employees and applicants from unfair treatment.

Have a Plan Ready: Often the most difficult part in starting the conversation is the fear of how your employer is going to react. Consider that, in addition to having the law on your side as you continue to work through your treatment, you may also have allies in your manager and your colleagues.

If you can, come up with a tentative plan for keeping up with your projects, and some ideas to accommodate any time off you may need. Things may change when you discover how you are going to respond to treatment, but it will make a positive impression on your manager that you have thought about how to remain a productive member of the department.

When you decide that it is time to discuss your plan with your employer, set up a meeting in a conference room or outside of the office to discuss your situation. It is always good to have talking points, as it is easy to be sidetracked. Be as clear as you can about your needs and expectations, and give your manager the opportunity to ask questions. Remember, you only need to answer what you feel comfortable addressing, and can politely decline any question that you feel is too personal. Keeping the communication open and honest throughout your treatment will ensure that the plan you devise together will be successful for all concerned.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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