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Monday, May 2, 2016

Health history discrimination

What an employer asks on employment applications regarding criminal history and how it is used, has long been scrutinized by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). In recent years when an employer asks about criminal history has been at issue (Should the box be banned, February 4, 2013). Employers are also getting caught on health history questions, although the EEOC has been monitoring that form of discrimination for over twenty years.


The Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title VII, made it illegal to discriminate based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. The EEOC was created in 1965 to enforce the Civil Rights Act but had to authority. In 1972, Congress gave the EEOC litigation enforcement authority. The American with Disabilities Act was passed in 1990 and the EEOC was given enforcement authority over Title I of the Act, which includes the employment discrimination provisions. The ADA places restrictions on employers regarding asking job applicants to answer medical questions.

EEOC v. Grisham Farm Products, Inc.

In a recent case the EEOC, on March 22, 2016, filed suit in the United States District Court against Grisham Farm Products, Inc. alleging that its employment application violated the ADA. (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Grisham Farm Products, Inc. 16-cv-03105)

In the case, an applicant applied for a warehouse position at Grisham. The Grisham job application contained forty-three “yes or no” health related questions. The questions were similar to what would be seen on an initial doctor visit. The Grisham application inquired whether in the past ten years the applicant has had allergies, arthritis, bladder infections, eating disorders, gallstones, sexually transmitted diseases, etc. The application also inquired about prior hospitalizations, HIV infection, treatment for alcoholism, and whether the applicant consulted a doctor, chiropractor, therapist, or other health care provider in the past two years.

The application’s Health History section stated in large letters, “All questions must be answered before we can process your application”. The applicant did not answer all of the questions and telephoned Grisham Farm. A company representative said that if the health history section was not fully completed, it would not be accepted.

The EEOC claims that the applicant believed he did not have to reveal his medical history to any potential employer. The case is still in litigation.

Review your hiring process

Employers should be frequently reviewing their hiring process. They also need to follow EEOC decisions as these decisions occur frequently and affect the hiring process. As with questions regarding criminal history, there are parameters as to what health questions can be asked and when they can be asked. The EEOC is clear that pre-employment health inquiries can be made only after a conditional offer has been made, if the inquiries are made to all applicants for that job category, and the inquiries are job related and consistent with a business necessity.

May 9, 2016-The EEOC released it's latest guidance on leave as a reasonable accommodation under the ADA. Employer-Provided Leave and the Americans with Disabilities Act

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