The right to privacy in the U.S. is highly regarded. We can protect our personal information in many aspects of our lives. But when disclosing medical information to employers comes up, the right to privacy becomes confusing, and people have many questions. The primary one is,
“What medical information can an employer ask for?”
It is a critical question for workers across Florida and the rest of the country. The answer will help you to understand your rights — and when employers cross the line into illegal behavior.
Employers can face serious consequences when they require employees to disclose inappropriate medical information. Did you know that there are confidentiality laws that serve to protect employee information? These laws are robust and are in place to hold employers accountable for violating workers’ rights across industries.
To Get Accommodations
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the EEOC, is the federal agency that provides and enforces guidelines on what medical information employers can ask for during the job search/recruiting phase and throughout employment. The EEOC has stated that medical information is only necessary when disabilities and the need for accommodation are not known or apparent to the employer.
This guideline affects how much information is required per person, called “reasonable” documentation. This means they can only ask for enough medical documentation to show that you have a disability or need an accommodation (or accommodations) in the workplace.
Reasonable accommodations to perform the essential functions of your job effectively typically range across four areas: physical changes, accessible and assistive technologies, accessible communications, and policy enhancements.
Reasonable accommodations may include:
- Wheelchair access, including installing a ramp or modifying a restroom or the layout of a workspace
- Supplying assistive technology for a hearing or visually impaired person
- Providing sign language interpreters or closed captioning at meetings and events
- Making materials available in Braille or large print
- Adjusting work schedules so employees with chronic medical conditions can go to medical appointments and complete their work at alternate times or locations
- A change in job tasks
- A change in a “no animals” policy to welcome an employee’s service animal
Reasonable accommodations also apply to the application and hiring process. An example of this includes requesting a change that increases accessibility to applications, required testing, or other parameters of getting a job.
When asking, “Do I have to disclose medical information to my employer?” know that anything outside of that scope of reasonable documentation is information that you do not have to provide. These are workers’ rights under the law.
The medical documentation you provide should clearly and sufficiently explain the disability and need for accommodation. This documentation would detail enough information that would prove that you currently have (or had) an impairment that limits, in a substantial way, at least one major life activity.
Suppose you were asked or forced to provide more medical information than is legally necessary and have been subject to discrimination in the workplace. In that case, EEOC mediation protects your rights to fair, equal treatment. With an experienced EEOC attorney, you have a powerful legal professional throughout the process to achieve the best resolution possible.
Wenzel Fenton Cabassa, PA, has extensive experience in EEOC mediation and has helped workers across the state when their rights have been violated by their employer or potential employer. We are relentless pursuers of justice and explore every avenue to get adequate compensation for our clients.
What can employees do if they think a request for medical documentation is improper?
Employers have certain circumstances where they can ask you to submit documentation, but what medical information an employer can ask for is limited. Employees have comprehensive safeguards under the American Disability Act (ADA). The ADA is federal legislation protecting individuals working for companies that employ at least 15 full-time workers from discrimination based on disability or health conditions. This includes the right to accommodations in the workplace and to provide protections when a request from an employer is out-of-scope under the law.
The ADA protections cover job applicants throughout the hiring process and employment. If you think a request from a potential employer or employer is improper, know that you do not automatically have to comply. If the employer says the information is required to get or keep a job, this may be a red flag. They may be trying to get around the ADA or other laws that protect workers’ rights.
Employees should challenge the request for information instead of simply not complying. There are different approaches to challenging the request. You can communicate directly with your healthcare provider and ask them to send a letter that only provides sufficient information to support your accommodation. Then, you can deliver that letter to your employer, accompanied by a letter that says you believe the documentation provided is sufficient.
If your employer wants to send questions directly to your healthcare provider, proceed cautiously. A release is required when disclosing medical information to employers, and their requests could be too broad, so it is imperative to be entirely sure when signing a release. You can challenge and attempt to change the questions on the release if they go beyond the scope needed for accommodations.
Employers can often go overboard when requesting information, either intentionally or unintentionally. Additionally, if you have been denied accommodations in the workplace, lost your job, and/or been discriminated against, you can seek options to recover losses. The legislation exists to keep employers from going beyond their limitations and to provide individuals with a legal avenue to hold them accountable when they do.
The ADA allows workers to file a lawsuit and seek damages. These damages may include back pay, lost wages, punitive damages, compensatory damages, attorney fees, and other costs associated with the violation committed. Employers also face penalties from the ADA in the form of hefty fines.
Can employers ask for complete medical records?
Complete medical records are a common subject when people wonder, “What medical information can an employer ask for?” during the hiring process or employment. Full records are another red flag that you should take seriously. Typically, requests for complete medical records are improper, and it would be outside the scope of what is necessary to determine and receive accommodations in the workplace.
However, employers can ask other types of questions related to medical issues. The laws are strong, but they allow employers to have certain conversations. Some of the questions that an employer may legally ask include:
- Do you want to talk about accommodation for a condition that affects your ability to perform the essential functions of your job?
- Do you need flexibility in the working day, such as more frequent breaks or the ability to work remotely?
- Are there extra resources that you need to do your job?
- Do you need to take a medical leave of absence?
- Was your absence due to a medical condition?
- Can you bring in a doctor’s note confirming that your absence was due to a medical condition?
Even though the employer can legally ask these questions, it is up to you if and how you would like to answer them. It can be just a short yes or no. You are not required to go into comprehensive details about your health. However, you can choose to volunteer the information. If the information meets the criteria under the ADA, then the employer must make reasonable accommodations that are needed for you to perform your job duties.
What are the confidentiality rules for employee medical information?
In Florida and the U.S., workers have federal protections to keep their medical information confidential. The ADA and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) protect employee medical information.
The ADA, passed in 1990, requires employers to maintain the confidentiality of their employees’ medical information. If they breach that rule under the ADA, you may have a case against the company. HIPAA has been in place since passed by Congress in 1996. It focuses on the protection of an individual’s health information that is gathered from group health plans.
Both of these Acts of Congress provide robust rights to workers regarding the confidentiality of their personal medical information.
Can an employer disclose medical information to other employees?
You may be concerned that if you provide certain medical information to your employer, other employees will find out about your health condition. This is certainly a valid concern.
But know this: it is generally illegal for an employer to share an employee’s personal medical information with an employee who does not need to know. If your employer has done this, now would be a good time to contact an attorney. You can consult with a legal professional to determine if you have a case.
Important note: There are specific individuals whom an employer is, under law, allowed to share your medical information within the workplace. These would be employees that need to know, such as supervisors or safety personnel at the company.
Contacting an attorney about medical information violations
Employees have comprehensive rights under federal legislation regarding their medical information throughout the hiring process and during employment.
However, it is not uncommon for employers to violate workers’ rights. They may do this for various reasons, from being blatantly discriminatory against individuals who are disabled to not wanting to take steps to make legally required accommodations in the workplace, among others.
Has your employer requested medical information that is out-of-scope for the requirements to establish a need for accommodations?
Have they improperly shared medical information or refused to provide accommodations?
If so, consulting with an attorney would be a good idea.
Wenzel Fenton Cabassa, PA, is dedicated to fighting for employee justice and offers disability discrimination services. A disability discrimination lawyer understands the complexities of ADA discrimination, acts as your advocate, and fights for the best possible outcome for your case.
We can help to clear up any issues with your employer and work aggressively for appropriate remedies. These may include:
- Reinstatement to your job with all pay and benefits
- Compensatory damages
- Back pay from termination to the settlement or verdict
- Other compensation, including emotional or punitive damages
Contact us today to set up a free, confidential consultation. We have offices across the State of Florida, including Tampa, St. Petersburg, Sarasota, Orlando, Miami, Jacksonville, and West Palm Beach.
Call 813-437-9415. Don’t do this alone. We are here to help.