Being in the center of gossip at work can be very frustrating and painful, especially if the gossip centers around your medical condition. But is there any way to put an end to the water cooler talk once and for all?
This is the question our Los Angeles employment law attorney here at Rager & Yoon – Employment Lawyers was recently asked by one of our readers. Here’s the full question: “I have recently been diagnosed with a genetic heart disorder, which requires surgery. I decided to tell one of my closest friends at work about this, but it looks like she could not keep her mouth shut so it was only a matter of time before my supervisor found out about my medical condition. But my supervisor knowing about my medical condition would not be such a big deal if she was not gossiping about it at work. My privacy is being violated and I fear that, now that my supervisor knows about my condition and the fact that I require surgery to treat it, I could get fired. What can I do to get my supervisor to stop gossiping about my medical condition?”
Can you get fired over your medical condition in California?
Thank you for your question. It is very unfortunate that your supervisor keeps gossiping about your medical condition even though, as she may or may not know, employers, supervisors, and managers are legally bound to keep genetic information confidential.
“Luckily for you, there is a law that protects you from employer’s discrimination or retaliation based on your medical condition or genetic information,” says our experienced discrimination attorney in Los Angeles. So if you fear that your employer might fire you because of your medical condition, do know that doing so would constitute wrongful termination under California law.
Under the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA), employers are prohibited from inquiring into or requiring employees to disclose genetic information. The GINA also makes it illegal for employers to use their employees’ genetic information, which they obtained legally, in taking adverse employment actions against the employee.
In other words, your supervisor and employer are prohibited from discriminating against you in the workplace based on your medical condition and is prohibited from making employment decisions on the basis of your genetic information.
Information about your genetic disorder or medical condition must be kept private
Under the GINA, employers are also legally required to keep genetic information confidential. However, the law does recognize that employers, managers, and supervisors may obtain information regarding your medical condition or genetic disorder either unintentionally or accidentally (i.e. employer checking your doctor’s notes for missing work due to illness).
If an employer, supervisor, or manager learned about your medical condition or genetic information through gossip or workplace conversation, or that information was disclosed by another employee (as it happened in your situation), this way of acquiring that information is not illegal. That does not change the fact, however, that your employer, supervisor, or manager is still legally bound to keep this information confidential.
Answering the second part of your question (“What can I do to get my supervisor to stop gossiping about my medical condition?”), our Los Angeles employment law attorney at Rager & Yoon – Employment Lawyers advises you to either (1) go straight to your supervisor and let her know that you want her to stop gossiping and want this information kept confidential, or (2) go to your Human Resources (HR) department and let them know that your rights under GINA have been violated.