Topic of the Week Medical Privacy in the Workplace: Does my employer have my medical information, and how can they use it?
Individually identifiable information in your medical records is protected when it relates to:
- Your past, present, or future physical or mental health condition,
- The provision of health care to you, or
- The past, present, or future payment for the provision of health care to you.
Otherwise confidential medical information may be disclosed by your employer:
- To supervisors in order to provide a reasonable accommodation or to meet an employee's work restrictions;
- To safety personnel if an employee would need emergency treatment or require other assistance (such as help during an emergency evacuation) because of a medical condition;
- To individuals investigating compliance with the ADA and with similar state and local laws;
- As required for workers' compensation claims or for insurance purposes.
What types of medical information might be part of my employer's records about me?
Medical records are created when you receive treatment from a health professional such as a physician, nurse, dentist, chiropractor, or psychiatrist. Records may include your medical history, details about your lifestyle (such as smoking or involvement in high-risk sports), and family medical history.
In addition, your medical records contain laboratory test results, medications prescribed, and reports that indicate the results of operations and other medical procedures. Your records could also include the results of genetic testing used to predict your future health. And they might include information about your participation in research projects.
Information you provide on applications for disability, life, or accidental insurance with private insurers or government programs can also become part of your medical file.
All of these types of medical records present privacy implications for you as an employee, if there is a possibility of your employer accessing this information.
For medical files that are covered under the HIPAA Privacy Rule, all individually identifiable information is protected. Individually identifiable information is information, including demographic data, that relates to:
- The individual’s past, present, or future physical or mental health condition,
- The provision of health care to the individual, or
- The past, present, or future payment for the provision of health care to the individual.
Who can my employer disclose my health information to?
The Americans with Disabilities Act recognizes that employers may sometimes have to disclose medical information about applicants or employees. Therefore, the law contains certain exceptions to the general rule requiring confidentiality. Information that is otherwise confidential under the ADA may be disclosed:
- To supervisors and managers where they need medical information in order to provide a reasonable accommodation or to meet an employee's work restrictions;
- To first aid and safety personnel if an employee would need emergency treatment or require some other assistance (such as help during an emergency evacuation) because of a medical condition;
- To individuals investigating compliance with the ADA and with similar state and local laws; and,
- As required for workers' compensation claims (for example, to a state workers' compensation office in order to evaluate a claim) or for insurance purposes.
Thought of the Week
""The great majority of pregnant women and new mothers want to breastfeed but face significant barriers in community, health care, and employment settings.""
–Senate resolution marking National Breastfeeding Month.
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