High Blood Pressure is a Disability under FEHA

The California Supreme Court held that high blood pressure (hypertension) may be a protected disability at workplace within the meaning of Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) in American National Insurance Co. v. Fair Employment and Housing Commission 32 Cal.3d 603 (1982). In that case, an insurance company terminated a sale and debit agent because of his elevated blood pressure. The Supreme Court held that high blood pressure may be a “physical handicap” under the FEHA, since the statutory definition of the protected disability under Cal. Gov. Code section 12926(h) permits consideration of all handicaps that are physical, and not only those are are presently disabling.

In explaining section 12926(h), the court resorted to the literal definition of the term “handicap” as defined in Webster’s dictionary: “physical handicap includes …, or any other health impairment which requires special education or related services. The Court further emphasized that the law protecting workers from being discriminated based on their disability clearly was designed to prevent employers from acting arbitrarily against physical condition that, whether actually or potentially handicapping, may present no current job disability or job-related health risk.

Thus, the mere fact that a worker isn’t constantly experiencing the symptoms of high-blood pressure, doesn’t mean that he is not disabled within the meaning of FEHA, as he or she does face an actual risk of experiencing those disabling symptoms.

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