Medical Examinations / Medical Privacy In Employment
In addition to prohibiting discrimination against individuals with disabilities, the Americans with Disabilities Act also regulates the ability of employers to conduct medical examinations of their employees and how employers must handle information they learn during such examinations. Consistent with the ADA's goal of preventing discrimination, the law prohibits employers from seeking out impairments that have no impact on an employee's job performance and holding those impairments against the employee.
Once an applicant has been offered a job, the employer can perform a pre-employment medical examination if it requires such examinations of all its new employees. These examinations can be wide ranging and can broadly examine the new hire's medical condition. Once an individual has actually begun working, however, the employer can no longer conduct broad medical examinations.
The ADA allows medical examinations of employees who are returning to work after an injury (return-to-work or fitness-for-duty examinations), who seek an accommodation for an alleged disability, or whom the employer believes poses a direct threat in the workplace. These examinations can only be conducted when the employer has specific reason to believe such an examination is necessary and they must be limited to the specific condition justifying the examination.
When an employer conducts a medical examination or otherwise acquires information regarding the medical condition of an employee, it is required to keep that information private. Employers must keep medical information in a locked area and can only distribute the information to employees with a safety-based need to know the employee's condition. It is illegal for employers to allow an employee's co-workers access to the employee's medical information.
Problems With Medical Examinations and Medical Privacy
The rules relating to medical examinations and medical privacy are explicit and relatively clear. Still, employers sometimes violate them. Sullenger Law Office has seen such violations primarily involving two scenarios. First, employers sometimes conduct overbroad medical examinations. When they believe an employee has a physical impairment, they may require the employee to undergo a complete physical to return to work after a minor injury. Return-to-work examinations, however, must be limited to examining the condition that led the employee to miss work. Second, employers sometimes distribute medical information too broadly. These employers may send information regarding an employee's injury or condition to large groups of employees via e-mail, billboard postings, or discussions in meetings, in violation of the rule that only employees with a safety function need to know an employee's medical limitations.
If you have been subjected to an illegal medical examination or have had your medical information illegally distributed, call attorney Wes Sullenger at (270) 443-9401 to schedule a consultation so we can evaluate your case and discuss what we can do to help you.