Tuberculosis (TB) is an infectious disease caused by bacteria that spreads from person to person through coughing, sneezing, talking, and singing. It can affect individuals at any age, and those with weakened immune systems are particularly susceptible. TB appears in two forms; latent and active. Latent TB, or TB infection is characterized by an individual who will test positive for TB when given a skin or blood test, but does not exhibit symptoms and is not contagious. Latent TB can later evolve into TB disease or active TB if the individual has a weakened immune system. Active TB, or TB disease can also develop soon after infection and is characterized by someone who tests positive for TB, exhibits symptoms, and are infectious, meaning they can spread TB to others. TB mostly affects the lungs but can potentially spread through the bloodstream to any part of the body, including bones, the brain, the liver or kidneys, and the heart. If left untreated, TB can be fatal. Symptoms of TB include sickness or weakness, weight loss, fever, chills, and night sweats. If the TB is in the lungs, it can also include persistent coughing, check pain and coughing up blood. Other symptoms associated with TB depend on if other parts of the body are infected and where. With medication it can take many moths to eradicate TB and the treatment involved is extensive, usually lasting six to nine months. Side effects from TB treatment is uncommon, but can include nausea and vomiting, loss of appetite, jaundice, dark urine, or a fever lasting three or more days. It is common for individuals to relapse during treatment, and reinfection after treatment is becoming more prevalent. The symptoms associated with TB and its treatment have the potential to affect an individual’s ability to work, and may force an employee to take time off or leave work early unexpectedly. Additionally, persons with TB may experience discrimination in the workplace as coworkers or supervisors may fear the spread of the disease, even when it is being treated.
Record of a communicable disease has been regarded as a disability. This means that employment law, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), protects those with TB, or exposed to TB against employment discrimination. Employers can inquire about various health conditions that effect an applicant’s ability to perform the essential functions of the position. However, employers are prohibited from asking specifically or directly about the presence or treatment of TB, use of medications, or about the presence of other health conditions. Further, if an individual chooses to disclose this information to a future employer, the employer is required to keep this information strictly confidential from coworkers. Employers are also prohibited from requiring medical examination prior to an offer of employment. If an employee is offered a job position without having disclosed his or her diagnosis and it is later discovered during a required post-offer medical examination, an employee cannot be dismissed because of the presence of TB. However, as mentioned above, a diagnosis of TB may cause coworkers and supervisors to treat employees with a TB diagnosis and may prompt discriminatory conduct, including change of responsibilities, demotion, firing, or creation of a hostile work environment in an effort to get someone with TB to quit.
Tuberculosis has been considered a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Protection under the ADA means that an individual who has or has had TB cannot be denied employment or fired because of his or her current or previous infection. Persons living on Long Island, in either Nassau of Suffolk county, or in the metro New York area, including Queens, Brooklyn, Staten Island, the Bronx and Manhattan, that suffer from TB and its symptoms and have experienced any form of discrimination in the workplace should contact a New York disability employment attorney to fully assert their rights.