Can You Be Fired for Medical Reasons?

Posted by Lawyers for Employee and Consumer Rights - California Employment Attorneys | Aug 19, 2021 | 0 Comments

The answer to the above question is simple and straightforward: NO.

The Law

It's illegal under both California and federal law to discriminate against employees based on medical conditions—or to care for an immediate family member (spouse, child, or parent) with a serious health condition, including but not limited to, when—

  • hiring
  • firing
  • promoting
  • demoting
  • offering skill training
  • considering job assignments
  • evaluating compensation
  • offering any privileges of employment

The federal laws that protect against medical condition discrimination are the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) as well as the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). California state laws that protect workers against medical condition discrimination (among many other protections) are the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) and the California Family Rights Act (CFRA). In general, California law offers wider protections for anti-discrimination scenarios than federal law. For instance, California state law allows for employees to seek greater damages than under federal law. Also, California law is not as limiting as federal law when it comes to proving how the condition impacts the employee's life. In fact, employees will enjoy further benefits under California guidelines, such as—

  • Before an employee may be afforded the protection of the federal statutes (like the ADA), there must be a minimum of fifteen employees. Whereas under California law, the counterpart medical discrimination protections apply when an employer has only a minimum of five employees.

Specifics

Once again, the statute is clear-cut: it is your civil right to have the fair opportunity to pursue and gain employment without discriminatory practices based on medical conditions—and these conditions include both physical and mental disabilities. In fact under these California protections, the definition of a medical condition covers a wide range of specifics. 

Physical disabilities include both temporary and permanent disorders, as well as chronic diseases; these conditions include—

  • impaired hearing
  • impaired eyesight
  • impaired speech
  • missing or loss of a limb
  • cancer
  • HIV/AIDs
  • diabetes
  • hepatitis

Note: Physical disabilities may also include disfigurements and/or ailments that affect and limit key life activities. 

Mental disabilities include chronic diseases and/or medical conditions; these include—

  • obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • schizophrenia
  • bipolar disorder
  • anxiety disorder
  • clinical depression
  • intellectual & learning disabilities

This is only a partial list. A qualified and expert employment attorney should be consulted immediately to determine your personal situation. 

Pregnancy & Childbirth

Discrimination based on pregnancy occurs when an employer treats a woman (employee or applicant) unfavorably based on her pregnancy, childbirth, or a medical condition that is related to the pregnancy or childbirth. According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, “The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) forbids discrimination based on pregnancy when it comes to any aspect of employment, including hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoff, training, fringe benefits, such as leave and health insurance, and any other term or condition of employment.” The State of California also bans discrimination based on pregnancy or childbirth—and the state law (FEHA) applies to all businesses with five or more employees (Federal law applies to fifteen or more employees).

In fact, there are additional laws and protections related to pregnancy, such as California’s Pregnancy Disability Leave (PDL). This law states that employers with five or more employees must give employees up to twelve weeks (four months) of unpaid disability leave because of pregnancy, childbirth, or a related illness. California Pregnancy Disability Leave (PDL) also requires that employers supply you with a reasonable accommodation and/or transfer you to a less hazardous or strenuous job. However, employers can deny any reasonable accommodation request if they can prove that it would cause them an undue burden.

Perceived Medical Conditions

In the State of California and in federal statutes, it is also typically unlawful for an employer to discriminate against an employee or applicant based on a “perceived” medical condition. Many employers may hold biased or predetermined thoughts on an individual's medical condition, including stereotypes, fears, and unwarranted anxieties. In these cases, employers might believe that a certain medical condition will hamper an employee's ability to perform the job and the employer acts accordingly by firing or not hiring the individual—when, in fact, the condition may have no impairment on the employee's performance. In this case the law is clear: the employer has no defense against employment discrimination if they were simply wrong about the person's disability or medical condition.

Discrimination is Discrimination

Federal and California state law prohibits employers from discriminating against employees and applicants based on a person's race, gender, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, age, and genetic information. In addition to these protections and equally unlawful is discrimination in the workplace based on existing or perceived medical conditions.

Reasonable Accommodations for Employees

In California under FEHA, employers are mandated to make reasonable accommodations for their employees when it comes to individuals with a medical condition. It is against the law for an employer to fire an employee because the person requested a reasonable good faith modification in their work environment—an action or adjustment that would help an employee with a disability to successfully handle the task or job. These actions could include providing necessary equipment, altered work schedules, or adjusting a certain exam.

Can an Employer Require Medical Exams

For both employees and employers, there are no hard rules or regulations governing medical exams and medical testing. The courts usually look at these issues on a case by case basis to establish the specific facts. Many experts suggest that employees can determine if a test or exam is unreasonable using common sense. If the request and/or requirement makes an employee or applicant uncomfortable, or if it appears to be irrelevant to the job or business functions, then the action may very well be unlawful. But it's important to keep this in mind: whether a test or exam is reasonable or not, it remains illegal if these actions exclude workers with disabilities from successfully performing the job with reasonable accommodation. This would clearly violate the Americans with Disabilities Act as well as California state law.

Some actions do clearly violate civil rights. Your employer or potential employer cannot ask an employee or applicant to take a psychological or medical exam if other applicants and employees are not required to do the same. It's also a violation of the law if the employer's request is not related to the actual job and/or business demands.

Know Your Rights | Knowledge is Power

As you can see, it's important to understand the law and know your rights. If you believe your rights have been violated, then it's also important to seek the advice of an attorney—one experienced in employment law and protecting the rights of workers. 

Because California is an “at-will” employment state (employers are free to terminate employees at any time) employees think that they have no rights. Nothing could be further from the truth. 

If you believe your termination was unlawful or even if you're not sure and need advice, take action today and contact us—the experts at Lawyers for Employee & Consumer Rights, a leading California employment law firm. With more than forty remote attorneys, LFECR is prepared to work on behalf of their clients anywhere in California.

Fired unfairly? Take advantage of your free consultation.
Call 1-844-MY RIGHTS (697-4448)

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