Heart disease is currently the leading cause of death in the United States. Heart disease is a disease of the blood vessels, such as coronary artery disease, arrhythmias (abnormal heart rhythms), heart infections, and congenital heart defects. Thickening of the arteries is the most common cause of heart disease and is cause by an unhealthy diet, being overweight, lack of exercise, and smoking. Additionally, individuals can be born with heart disease, such as a heart defect present since birth, or valvular heart disease. In addition to the more known causes of heart disease, certain work environments can aggravate or even cause heart disease. Some occupational hazards with regard to heart disease are temperature extremes, prolonged exposure to loud noises, constant vibration, and chemical hazards, particularly carbon monoxide. Common complications of heart disease are heart failure, heart attack, chest pain, aneurysm, and sudden cardiac arrest. Less serious complications include breathlessness and fatigue from heart failure.
Individuals with heart disease may face discrimination in the workplace because of their condition. Employers may not want individuals to return to work after procedures concerning heart disease or impairment for fear of continued illness. Employers sometimes do not understand that employees who have had surgery or treatment for heart disease are able to return to work after treatment, and that heart patients undergo rigorous test in order to get the clearance they need prior to returning to work. Another barrier to returning to work could be if the environment at work cause or contributed to the employee’s condition. There are many ways that an employer can discriminate against individuals with heart impairments, including disease and defects, including outright dismissal, changes in responsibilities, change of position, demotion, or failure to promote. Additionally, rather than make these affirmative changes, some employers choose to create a hostile work environment in order to push employees out by forcing them to quit.
Unfortunately, discrimination can start during the hiring process. This can be particularly true for individuals living with heart disease because often a way to rejoin the workforce is to change careers with less physical or mental stress, or change environment. The reason for this change of careers can naturally come up during the interview process and it is important for individuals with heart disease to know their rights. Employers are prohibited from asking about medical procedures, use of medication, or treatments an applicant may have had. Further, employers cannot require medical examination prior to employment. Conversely, employers are permitted to ask if an applicant will need accommodations to complete the application, and can conduct non-medical tests to measure the applicant’s ability to perform job related functions. Once an employer has made a job offer, they can require medical examination provided all applicants are treated the same. However, an employer can only withdraw a job offer if post-offer examination show that employee is unable to perform the essential functions of the position.
Persons living with and being treated for heart disease are considered disabled under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and are therefore entitled to protection against discrimination. If you live in the metro New York area, including Queens, Brooklyn, Staten Island, the Bronx, and Manhattan, or on Long Island and have experienced discrimination in the workplace because of your heart disease or related conditions, you should contact a New York disability attorney.