Labor and Employment

Your Health & Your Job: An Unseen Connection?

If you think about how your job and your health are connected, the first thing that may come to mind is stress. For many workers, there's another connection they may have never thought about. And it's one that may mean the difference between getting hired or even keeping a job.

Health & Lifestyle

Does your lifestyle or general physical health have an impact on whether you get hired or fired? For some they do. But is it legal? Maybe, maybe not.


A chef in New York became a diabetic after an operation on his pancreas. He says his employer fired him because his medical condition raised the insurance premiums for everyone.

The chef filed a lawsuit against the employer. He claims he was fired because of his medical condition, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

He may have a good case, too. He claims:

  • His boss flat-out told him that the increased insurance rates were his fault
  • He had a stellar work record
  • He had recently received a big bonus for his work
  • The company hired two chefs to replace him

If true, the employer may be liable for the $6 million in damages the chef is asking for.

No Violation?

That's not to say diabetes and other medical conditions can't be taken into account by your employer. For instance, it's not uncommon - or illegal, in most cases - for employers to refuse to hire delivery drivers who suffer from diabetes. Diabetes can affect a person's ability to drive safely.

In over-simplified terms, the key here is: Does the medical condition make it impossible or unsafe for you to do the job? If so, it may not be discrimination if you're not hired or fired.

No Smokers, Please

Smokers in Massachusetts and elsewhere better read the classified ads and job postings carefully. Rising health care costs, among other things, are leading many employers to refuse to hire people who smoke.

As a general rule, it's legal, too. Smoking isn't a "disability" under the ADA, so workers have no protection there. However, some states do have laws that make it illegal to fire or refuse to hire someone simply because she smokes.

In other states, general privacy laws may make it illegal to fire/refuse to hire someone who smokes away from work, like at home.

What You Can Do

Employers and employees alike should keep some things in mind when it comes to health and lifestyles and work-related matters:

  • Under the ADA, workers with disabilities are entitled to reasonable accommodations to let them do their jobs, such as regular meal breaks and a place to administer insulin and check blood sugar levels, for example
  • As a general rule, employment is at-will, meaning a worker may be fired at any time and for any reason. So, absent a state law to the contrary, smoking may get a worker fired
  • An employment contract may specify for what reasons someone may be fired. Contract negotiations may include employees' right to smoke - or the lack of the right
  • Policies on how medical, lifestyle, and health issues impact employment decisions should be clearly explained to job-applicants and employees

It's not always easy to juggle medical, lifestyle, and health issues, and there's a lot at stake for workers and employers. Knowing your rights and responsibilities helps to protect everyone's interests.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • Does our state have any laws protecting the rights of smokers?
  • Can I be fired if I don't tell my employer about my diabetes and it later finds out?
  • Is it illegal to hire or keep one delivery driver who has diabetes and refuse to hire other diabetics as drivers, or move diabetic drivers to other positions in the company?
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