For decades, workers with disabling medical conditions have benefitted from explicit protection under federal law. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires that employers refrain from considering someone’s medical conditions when making employment decisions. So long as someone can perform their job with reasonable accommodations, their health should have no bearing on whether or not a company will hire them, promote them or retain them on staff during a major change at the business.
Unfortunately, workers with disabling medical conditions are among those most likely to face discrimination in the workplace. They are often among the first to lose their jobs when companies begin downsizing and may feel targeted even if the company has no financial issues. These are two of the ways in which companies too often try to hide the unreasonable termination of workers with medical conditions.
Through questionable performance reviews
The idea of performance reviews is a good one. Companies look at how well employees meet the standards for their jobs and provide feedback that can help them improve. For companies with bad intentions, performance reviews often devolve into a way to bully and control workers. They can also be a way for a business to cover up what is truly discrimination against a worker. A manager might claim that a worker’s performance has started to decline because of their medical limitations, which can be difficult for the employee to counter. Two or three consecutive performance reviews with negative comments can be enough to seemingly justify the decision to terminate a worker.
Through progressive discipline
Perhaps a worker must miss more work than they have paid time off benefits to cover because of their condition. Maybe they are on medication that leads to them occasionally dozing off at their desk, or perhaps they have to go to the bathroom more frequently than their coworkers. Supervisors may sometimes write up workers for minor issues related to their health concerns, like frequent bathroom breaks or attendance issues related to symptom flare-ups or medical appointments. As with poor performance reviews, the goal of such disciplinary efforts is often to obfuscate the true reason that the company decided to terminate the worker, which is the medical condition affecting their work performance.
Workers who recognize the warning signs of disability discrimination can potentially be inspired to seek legal guidance and to fight back to protect their income and/or hold a company accountable after an unfair termination.