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Confidentiality of Medical Information under the ADA

Consultants' Corner: Volume 11, Issue 01

JAN consultants frequently take calls concerning the confidentiality of medical information under the ADA and who is entitled to the information. There seems to be a lot of confusion surrounding this topic, so we wanted to give a quick overview to help provide some clarity.

All medical information should be treated the same, regardless of how it was obtained (during post-offer examinations, voluntary disclosure, etc.). It should be kept in a file separate from the employee’s personnel file and in a location that is accessible only to authorized personnel. Generally, only human resources personnel are entitled to the medical information, however, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission identifies a few exceptions, which are as follows:

  • Supervisors and managers may be informed about necessary restrictions on the work or duties of an employee and necessary accommodations.
  • First aid and safety personnel may be informed, when appropriate, if the disability might require emergency treatment or if any specific procedures are needed in the case of fire or other evacuations.
  • Government officials investigating compliance with the ADA and other Federal and state laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of disability or handicap should be provided relevant information on request. (Other Federal laws and regulations also may require disclosure of relevant medical information.)
  • Relevant information may be provided to state workers' compensation offices or "second injury" funds, in accordance with state workers' compensation laws.
  • Relevant information may be provided to insurance companies where the company requires a medical examination to provide health or life insurance for employees.

In some cases supervisors may need to know the specific disability so accommodations can be effectively implemented. In such cases, the employer should check with the employee before sharing medical information with the supervisor to explain the reason for doing so. For example, if an employee has a seizure disorder and needs accommodations relating to what to do in the event the employee has a seizure in the workplace, the supervisor probably would need to know that the employee has seizures, otherwise there may be no way to implement a plan of action.

In many cases, however, the supervisor will not need to know the specific disability to implement the accommodation. For example, individuals with mental health impairments sometimes need accommodations such as schedule modifications, additional breaks, and job restructuring. The supervisor probably does not need to know the employee’s specific medical condition or limitations in order to provide the accommodations. In this case, the supervisor may only need to know what accommodations are needed.

 

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