When A Medical Condition Leads To Discrimination At Work

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor, 17.8 percent of disabled Americans hold some type of job. That said, the federal agency fails to account for millions of Americans who suffer in secrecy with lesser-known medical problems that impact their work. For these people, judgment and discrimination is commonplace; however, there are options for people who feel they are being treated unfairly.

A Common Example

A recent study initiated by the charity, Migraine Trust revealed that many migraine sufferers face unfair treatment from employers and coworkers alike. According to the research, about 41 percent of migraine sufferers say they feel unsupported by colleagues, with nearly 33 percent saying they’ve actually received discipline for missing work due to their conditions.

The Migraine Trust reports that migraine headaches result in more missed work time than any other type of illness; however, according to Dr. Mark Dunayer, who treats numerous migraine sufferers who owe their trouble to temporomandibular (TMJ) disorder, understanding can be hard to come by.

“People who don’t get migraines have trouble understanding just how debilitating they can be, and they somehow think that migraine sufferers should be able ‘buck up’ or somehow avoid getting these headaches altogether,” said Dunayer.

Hiding the Problem

Because they fear they will be judged unfairly for their conditions, many people feel they have no choice but to work in secrecy. According to The Migraine Trust’s study, many respondents say they’ve felt compelled to hide their symptoms for fear they might actually lose their jobs. This is also a common strategy for people who suffer from other debilitating conditions, such as epilepsy, irritable bowel syndrome and more.

Protecting Your Rights

Since October 2010, the Equality Act has made it illegal for employers to question job applicants about potential disability- or health-related questions prior to offering employment. That said, once the hiring process is finalized, things get cloudy.

Disability discrimination laws forbid employers from firing an employee due to a medical condition. A person can be classified as “disabled” if he or she has mental or physical impairments that have a long-term, substantial negative impact on his or her ability to carry out so-called normal activities; however, each instance is judged on a case-by-case basis; and state laws differ in protecting employer and employee rights.

With that said, disability laws don’t necessarily focus on the individual impairment as much as its effect; so experts advise employees who believe they are facing workplace discrimination for any health-related issue to seek individual legal counsel to help evaluate their options.

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Ryan Lawrence writes for Off-Topic Media. Thanks to Dr. Mark Dunayer for his contributions to this feature. Dr. Dunayer can be reached at his dental office in Rockland County, NY.