Muscular dystrophy is a group of genetic diseases in which muscle fibers are unusually susceptible to damage, and damaged muscles become progressively weaker. As muscle weakness progresses, mobility becomes exceedingly limited and individuals likely eventually need a wheel chair. There are many types of muscular dystrophy and they differ with regard to distribution and extent of muscle weakness, rate of progression, age of onset and pattern of inheritance. Muscular dystrophy is caused by a genetic mutation that is usually inherited but can occur spontaneously in a developing child before birth. There is currently no cure for muscular dystrophy, however there are medications and therapy available that can slow the course of the disease. As muscular dystrophy characterized a group of over 30 genetic muscular diseases, the complications associated with muscular dystrophy vary depending on the muscles affected. Some types of muscular diseases shorten a person’s life span, because of the affect on the muscles associated with breathing. Many types reduce the efficiency of the heart muscle, and if the affected muscles are involved with swallowing, nutritional problems may develop. While symptoms normally begin in childhood, some types of muscular dystrophy do not surface until adulthood. Because the rate of progression and severity vary, many individuals of working age, are living with and being treated for muscular dystrophy and are able to join the workforce.
Unfortunately, individuals with a physical disability, such as muscular dystrophy, often face unfettered discrimination in the hiring process and at work. Too often, career aspirations of individuals with muscular dystrophy and other physical disabilities are frustrated by prejudice in the workplace. Persons with MD, who have the same skills and qualifications as their peers are passed over for job, or promotions. Because of this prejudice and discrimination experienced in the workforce, it is important for individuals with muscular dystrophy to know their rights. Employers are not permitted to ask about medical conditions, use of medication, or treatments and therapies during the application process. Additionally, employers cannot require a medical examination as part of the application process, but are permitted to conduct non-medical testing to ensure that the applicant is capable of performing the essential functions of the position applied for. Conversely, an employer is permitted to ask the applicant if he or she will need accommodations to complete the application process, and can require post-offer medical examinations if required for all employees. However, any medical conditions discovered through post-offer examination cannot be cause for dismissal unless they impair the ability of the employee to perform the essential function of the position. Other discrimination can occur once an employee is hired such as dismissal, change in responsibility or position, demotion, or continued failure to promote. Similarly, the creation of a hostile work environment by an employer in an effort to make an employee quit is also prohibited discriminatory conduct, when it is done due to employee’s disability.
Persons living with and being treated for muscular dystrophy 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, in either Nassau or Suffolk County, and have experienced discrimination in the workplace because of your muscular dystrophy or related conditions, you should contact a New York disability attorney.