So you haven't slept well lately. At your last visit with your doctor, he prescribes you an herbal remedy to help you get that much-needed rest. When you arrive at work, do you have to announce to your employer that you are taking a sleeping aid? The answer to that question is no. Well, in most cases anyway.
The General Rule
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission asserts that asking all employees about the use of prescription medication is not consistent with business needs. Sure, employees are permitted to volunteer the information, but they certainly don't have to. The EEOC uses the term "all" employees because there are some exceptions to this rule.
Certain occupations and situations require this knowledge be shared with employers. Although every applicable situation is not broken down, the EEOC guidelines are relatively clear. Employers must be aware of employees' medications in situations where the employer can show that it is job-related and that impaired job function could result in a risk to public health. Police officers and airline pilots, for example, may have to report the medications they take to their employers.
Health is a private matter. The medications people take and other matters pertaining to heath is information people share with a select group of individuals they trust. For this reason, employers may only questions that are job-related or otherwise allowed by the Americans with Disabilities Act. For instance, an employer may ask employees about their general well-being, how they are feeling or ask if they can perform their job duties.
Implications for Employers
Everyone has, at one time or another, read the "do not operate heavy machinery until you know how this medicine affects you" label. A Cato Institute Publication addresses the impact prescription privacy may have on employers. Factory workers who operate heavy machinery may be unable to perform their job functions and pose a risk to themselves because of the medication they take. That leaves the employer with a tough decision -- ask employees about medication, violate EEOC regulations and face a potential lawsuit or wait for an accident to occur.
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