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California company sued for questioning employees’ medical history

A temporary employee with a California seed and fertilizer business was denied a permanent position with the company based on illegal questioning during a medical exam. The worker understood he would be hired once he passed a routine physical.

However, during the medical appointment, he was illegally asked about his extended family medical histories. The man reluctantly disclosed a condition shared by some family members and the company refused to hire him, claiming he had a disability. The California business is accused of violating federal laws for discriminating based on disability and genetic information.

When an employer asks questions regarding genetic information - family or personal disability history - that has nothing to do with a person's ability to perform his or her job, the employer may be in violation of the following:

  • Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
  • Genetic Information Non-Discrimination Act (GINA).

A business found in violation of these Acts may be ordered to do the following for the employee or potential employee:

  • Pay him or her back for lost or inappropriately withheld wages.
  • Pay compensation and penalties to the person.
  • Hire the potential employee.

Unseen disabilities

While the man's medical history may not be classified as a disability, there are many disabling conditions that are not readily apparent to the naked eye which are also protected by the ADA and GINA. The above is merely one example of an unseen medical condition. Examples of disabilities protected by law include the following:

  • Hearing loss.
  • Impaired vision.
  • Epilepsy.
  • Mental illness.
  • Diabetes or other conditions requiring special medication at frequent intervals.

Many workers are leery of disclosing their hidden disabilities, and for good reason. Although the ADA forbids employers from discriminating against those with disabilities, it still occurs. Potential employees are under no obligation to disclose a hidden disability and, in fact, employment experts say that interviewees should avoid mentioning their disabilities during interviews, if possible.

After being hired, the employee is still not obligated to disclose a disability to co-workers or management. However, failure to do so may affect performance expectation or keep fellow employees from being prepared in the event a worker needs their help. This puts the employee in a difficult position, possibly exposing him or her to misunderstandings, unfair treatment or undeserved stigma.

An attorney can help

Dealing with a disability may force you to make tough decisions in the work place or during an interview. If you believe you are being treated unfairly - or suspect you are - seek the counsel of an experienced employment and discrimination lawyer. If you have a disability, you may be entitled to disability benefits and special accommodations. An attorney can help you with discrimination or denied disability claims.