Complaints filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) are on the rise, according to a recent piece featured in the Wall Street journal "Employers Beware when Asking about Workers' Health." Most of these complaints are tied to allegations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The EEOC is attributing this to employers dancing dangerously close to, or in some cases over, the line of a law aimed at keeping health information off the table for decisions related to hiring or firing. While this has implications for any employee, it's an all-too familiar situation for cancer patients and survivors. We hear daily from patients and survivors daily who struggle with issues around disclosure of their condition in the workplace.
The law, known as the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act or GINA, was initially created in 2008 with the hope that more Americans would feel supported and secure in getting genetic testing, not having to worry that their jobs or health insurance were at risk. While the law's name is fairly clear and "employers aren't allowed to ask employees or applicants about family medical histories or genetic test results," what remains on shaky ground are other ways employers obtain information. They could overhear something in passing, for example or even through a public social media post on Twitter or Facebook. This is one of the major reasons behind our strong advocacy efforts for building and protecting one's online image.
Since the EEOC just filed its first two legal claims against two companies under GINA, we're in a bit of a holding pattern on how it shakes out post-ruling. If you're in need of legal help as it relates to a cancer diagnosis, check out our legal information and visit the National Cancer Legal Services Network.