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How a simple medical exam can turn into discrimination

As obesity continues to rise in the United States, more and more employers have made a push towards improving the overall health of their employees.  As we've mentioned in past posts, this has been achieved through healthier vending machine options to incentive programs as well.  But some employers have been dipping their toes in illegal by requiring their employees to disclose their family histories, or worse still, requiring prospective employees to take pre-employment medical exams.

But while this may seem innocent enough, many people here in Indiana recognize this as potentially unlawful behavior, especially because they both violate the Genetic Information Non-Discrimination Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act.  So when does a simple medical exam turn into discrimination and how can a person protect themselves down the road?

Since its inception in 2009, the Genetic Information Non-Discrimination Act, also known as GINA, has been protecting employees from being genetically discriminated against in the workplace. This is done by prohibiting employers from asking about family medical histories or purchasing genetic information about an employee for the purpose of employment decisions. Just like the Americans with Disabilities Act, it affords employees protection from being fired or denied a position simply because of their medical condition.

But as recent lawsuits filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission demonstrate, employees need to still be cautious of employers who may not know about these protections. In the two cases, both current and prospective employees were asked to disclose their family medical histories as well as undergo physical exams that could also reveal medical conditions. The two companies that requested these exams then terminated and denied employment based on perceived medical issues. In one of the cases, a court judge agreed with the EEOC's assessment that this had qualified as discrimination and awarded the victim with a settlement. The second case has yet to be decided.

Knowing your employee rights and seeking legal representation when you feel these rights have been violated is the best way to protect yourself from discrimination such as this in the future. And by holding employers accountable, you will hopefully prevent something such as this from happening to someone else as well.

Source: Aol Jobs, "Pre-Employment Medical Exams: A New, Scary Kind Of Discrimination," Donna Ballman, June 11, 2013

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