What is Medical Discrimination?

It is against the law for any employer to discriminate against someone due to the existence of a medical condition. Both state law and federal law prohibit discrimination because of a disability or medical condition. This prohibition extends not just to discrimination but to harassment as well. Understanding exceptions to medical discrimination and examples of medical discrimination can help you determine whether you need to take legal action. 

Definition of Medical Discrimination

Employers with disabilities are protected from disability discrimination by law, meaning prospective employees cannot be discriminated against because of that medical condition. 

If you have a medical condition, your employer is required to provide you with reasonable accommodations so that you are still able to perform your duties. Reasonable accommodations can include:

  • Providing interpreters
  • Modifying workplace equipment
  • Changing company tests or training material
  • Restructuring your work schedule so that it is modified or part-time 

Medical conditions are typically defined as any health impairment or record of health impairments such as:

  • Physical disabilities
  • Mental disabilities, such as clinical depression and schizophrenia
  • Chronic diseases
  • HIV or AIDS
  • Genetic characteristics
  • Cancer

Exceptions to Medical Discrimination

There are some exceptions to medical discrimination. If job assignments require essential functions and adisability interferes with those functions or would provide significant difficulty, that is not discrimination. For example, if someone suffers from narcolepsy, a trucking company can choose not to hire them because their narcolepsy would likely interfere with the primary duties of the job.

If an employee suffers from a medical condition, the company must provide reasonable accommodations as long as the accommodation doesn’t create an undue hardship for the employer. Legally speaking, an undue hardship in the workplace is considered any situation that is significantly difficult for the employee.

Examples of Medical Discrimination

Discrimination can take place because of religion, age, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, race, or medical conditions. In certain cases, the harassment or discrimination might fall under employment law when it takes place in the workplace, but in other cases, it can be so severe that it violates an individual’s civil rights. Medical discrimination can take place during recruitment, at a job interview, or even in the workplace. Some examples include discriminatory insurance practices where the employer withholds an employee’s benefits or provides unfair benefit packages to those with medical conditions. 

Employers cannot medically discriminate against people who actually have medical conditions or against people they think have medical conditions.

Examples include:

  • Wrongful termination where an employer fires or demotes an employee based on their medical condition
  • Employment discrimination where an employer refuses to hire somebody because they have a particular medical condition
  • Providing someone with different compensation or creating different privileges for those who don’t have a medical condition
  • Refusing to select an applicant to participate in training programs because of their disability

Employers are not allowed to medically discriminate in any area of the job, and then includes the hiring process. This means an employer cannot engage in any of the of the following activities:

  • Refuse to hire someone because that person has a medical condition or because the employer thinks they have one
  • Harass an employee in the workplace because of a medical condition or perceived condition
  • Reduce a employee’s compensation because of a medical condition or perceived condition
  • Refuse to give a reasonable accommodation because of a medical condition or perceived condition
  • Force an employee to quit because of a medical condition or perceived condition
  • Deny an employee benefits because of a medical condition or perceived condition
  • Deny an employee any workplace promotions because of a medical condition or perceived condition
  • Deny an employee’s reinstatement because of a medical condition or perceived condition
  • Demote an employee because of a medical condition or perceived condition 

Medical discrimination in the workplace

If an employer thinks that you have a medical condition, but they don’t have any proof, they still cannot ask for your medical records or discriminate against you. 

Unless the job you are applying to requires that all employees or prospective employees take a medical exam, your employer or potential employer cannot ask you to take one. However,there are job-related medical exams, such as for those entering the police force or those who wish to become a trucker. However, according to the Americans with Disabilities Act, they cannot ask you to complete a medical exam until after they have made you a job offer.

Similarly, employers cannot ask you about your health status. However, there may be certain tasks related to your job for which a potential employer must make sure you are qualified. They can ask you if you are physically or mentally able to handle specific tasks such as, “Can you lift 50-lb bags of gravel regularly every day?”

Note: If employers believe that you would be unable to safely or successfully do the job at hand because of a medical condition OR they need documentation in order to provide you with a reasonable accommodation, they can ask you more specific medical questions or require a medical exam before they provide you with a job offer.

Medical discrimination cases

If you feel that you have been discriminated against because of a medical condition, you might be able to pursue a medical discrimination case with the help of an attorney.

Because there are so many exceptions to these rules, it is important that you build a compelling case by taking the following steps:

  1. Keep exact records of the discrimination, which may take place on more than one occasion. This includes the names of those who have discriminated against you, phone numbers, witnesses, and records associated with that discrimination. For example, any HR records if applicable.
  2. File a formal complaint with your company. Even if you were discriminated against during the recruitment or interview process, you can still submit a formal complaint with the company in question. A formal complaint provides an official account of the discrimination that transpired and what happened after the fact to rectify the situation, if anything. Should you decide to pursue a medical discrimination case, having official records of each event can help you and your attorney build a more substantial case.
  3. Reach out to qualified medical discrimination lawyers. A medical discrimination attorney will know how to prepare for such a case, what additional documentation you might want to gather, and they can tell you what to expect next. 
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Medical discrimination laws

There are many laws which prevent discrimination, even medical discrimination. The four most important include the following:

  1. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA): This law 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.”
  2. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964: This law states that it is against the law to discrimination in any aspect of employment (such as hiring/firing, recruitment, fringe benefits, etc.), and any type of harassment based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, and/or disability.
  3. Family and Medical Leave Act: This law relates to unpaid, job-protected leave for specific family and medical reasons and provides all employees with leave (with the continuation of health insurance coverage) for situations such as taking care of a spouse, caring for a child, or helping a parent with a serious health condition. Employees who need leave for their medical condition must be allowed that leave as well.
  4. The Rehabilitation Act of 1973: This Act “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 believe that you have been discriminated against in the workplace because of a medical condition, you should consider reaching out to an attorney. Again, there are many instances where exceptions might arise or where perceived discrimination is actually an employer’s attempt to ensure that you are physically able to complete the tasks associated with the job. For this reason, it is best to understand examples of medical discrimination and exemptions in the workplace, and an experienced attorney can assist with this. 

Article by Mariia Synytska

Mariia Synytska is Content Lead at Lawrina, a legal portal that projects innovation in law. Mariia manages the content on the website, takes interviews with lawyers and law experts, and looks for the interesting topics for Lawrina's audience. If you would like to be a blogger for Lawrina, you can contact Mariia for all the details via email m.synytska@lawrina.com.

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