Medical Discrimination: How it Happens and What to Do About It

Medical discrimination happens when an employer denies someone employment or reasonable workplace accommodations because of a disability or a certain medical condition. Additionally, if an employer takes measures to impede — or reverse — any aspect of the employment contract of an employee with a medical condition, it can also be considered medical discrimination.

Medical discrimination typically happens to people with disabilities (disability discrimination), and those with certain illnesses or qualifying medical conditions. Laws such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), The Rehabilitation Act, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), and more have been enacted to protect people who have been discriminated against. 

Cases involving medical discrimination can be difficult to prove. However, if you understand how medical discrimination works, the legal protections, and the steps to proving medical discrimination, you may be able to team up with a lawyer to make a strong case and receive justice.

Examples of Medical Discrimination

Unfortunately, discrimination and harassment happen to several different types of individuals belonging to marginalized groups in the workplace. It can happen to people of different races and ethnicities, genders, sexual orientations, religions, ages, and much more. Sometimes, this discrimination and harassment can be handled under normal employment law, while in other cases it may be seen as violating a civil rights issue; still other times it might be considered medical discrimination.

It becomes medical discrimination when a person with a disability or particular medical condition is discriminated against — which can quickly turn into harassment. Discrimination can happen in the workplace, during a job interview and/or recruitment, and even insurance practices can be discriminatory. Common examples of medical discrimination can happen to people with disabilities and/or medical conditions when an employer:

  • Pays someone else more for the same work;
  • Hires or promotes another person of the same qualifications and capabilities as a person with a disability or medical condition;
  • Fires a person with a disability or medical condition under no reasonable grounds;
  • Ridicules, and/or makes insensitive jokes or comments.

Another way discrimination can happen in the workplace can take the form of unfair insurance practices.

Does the Insurance Industry Discriminate?

The insurance industry has come under fire for racism and medical discrimination. Both inside- and outside-the-workplace insurance practices have been exposed to have blind spots when providing accommodating care for both minorities and people with disabilities. For those with disabilities, insurance discrimination can involve employers withholding benefits, unfair benefit package designs (such as limiting funding for the care that people with disabilities can receive), and other efforts to restrict health care for those with disabilities and/or medical conditions. 

Insurers design programs based on what they see fit and the risk and liability of a person’s health. When employers request health packages, people with disabilities can experience unfair discrimination (as mentioned above), fair discrimination, discrimination in selection and pricing, and underwriting discrimination. It will be crucial to understand how insurance can “rightfully” discriminate against a person with a disability or medical condition.

  • Fair discrimination: Employers can indirectly discriminate based on the inherent requirements of a job and productivity (among other things). People with disabilities can be turned down employment if an employer deems they cannot meet the requirements of a job or if they won’t meet productivity standards. This can happen without even getting a chance to show if you can.
  • Selection and Pricing: Insurers of various markets can set conditions and prices concerning what they choose to cover. For instance, a car insurance company can approve or reject drivers based on their driving record and set the insurance coverage higher based on whether they are driving a sports car (as opposed to a more practical, slower car). People with disabilities can be rejected or have higher premiums on their health care because of pre-existing conditions and/or if they are considered a risk due to their disability or medical condition.
  • Underwriting: In a business sense, underwriting analyzes the risk of a business, and sets rates and premiums according to this. Employers may be deterred to hire a person with a disability or medical condition, as they might be seen as a risk — raising the company’s premium.

It will be important to understand if a company is being fair or unfair to make a case for financial compensation if you feel you are being discriminated against in the workplace

Based on these fair discrimination factors, a person with a disability or medical condition may not be hired or may have to pay more than other employees for their healthcare and/or receive fewer benefits. Luckily, there are several laws in place to protect against medical discrimination.

Legal Protections Against Medical Discrimination

To understand if a company is operating legally in any aspect of employment for an employee with a disability or medical condition, it will help to know the laws that protect you. Several agencies provide a variety of defenses should you find yourself discriminated against as a person with a disability or medical condition, including:

  • The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA): Which prohibits “discrimination on the basis of disability in employment, State and local government, public accommodations, commercial facilities, transportation, and telecommunications. It also applies to the United States Congress.”
  • Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964: Makes it illegal to discriminate in any aspect of employment (hiring/firing, recruitment, fringe benefits, etc.), and any harassment based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, and/or disability.
  • Family and Medical Leave Act: Which covers employees to take unpaid, job-protected leave for specific family and medical reasons (with the continuation of health insurance coverage). This includes instances where an employee needs to take leave to care for a spouse, child, or parent who has a serious health condition. Additionally, employees who need to take leave because of a serious health condition that renders that employee unable to perform essential functions of their job.
  • The Rehabilitation Act of 1973: This “prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in programs conducted by federal agencies, in programs receiving federal financial assistance, in federal employment and in the employment practices of federal contractors.”

If you feel your company has operated outside of these laws, your next step may be to consult a lawyer and move toward a settlement. However, before you do so, it may help to come properly prepared with an airtight case.

What to Do About Medical Discrimination

To properly protect your rights and build a compelling case for medical discrimination, it helps to come prepared. Several measures you can take if you feel you have been discriminated against include:

    • Keeping records: If discrimination happens, it will be vital to chronicle what happened in detail. What happened, names of perpetrators, phone numbers, and any witnesses. It will also be prudent to ask for medical records and keep any reports associated with what discrimination(s) took place.
  • Seek support: Find friends, coworkers you trust, support groups, and/or a therapist to help you through the distress of being discriminated against and to plan your next move. 
  • File a formal complaint: This can be an official account of what happened and when it happened, and it will go on record that you feel an injustice has happened.
  • Reach out to a lawyer: A lawyer can tell you if your employer is illegally discriminating against you. They can also discuss time frames, financial preparations, and the finer details of your case. It will be crucial to consult a lawyer before you go forward with your case.

Medical discrimination should not be allowed in any capacity — much less in the workplace. Understanding what you can do about this discrimination can help you stand up for yourself. For any legal matter, it will help to find a qualified lawyer in your area who can handle the case.

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