No one needs to tell you that confidentiality is big in business. For years, employers have been asking employees to sign nondisclosure agreements to protect proprietary information. But this arrangement goes both ways, and most states have laws governing the handling and disposal of employee information, including the confidentiality of personnel files and medical records. So, no, a supervisor can’t leak your medical records to other employees.
The Americans with Disabilities Act requires employers keep all employee medical records private. This includes not only any medical information shared during the hiring process, but also medical information collected for insurance purposes or other wellness programs. Information on disabilities and any results from medical exams or drug tests, except in the case of illegal drugs, are also protected under the law.
The ADA also specifies how employers should retain medical records. All medical information is to be kept in a separate file from other employee information. An employee’s medical history shouldn’t be stored in her personnel file -- or next to it, for that matter. Other employees, such as a manager or human resource representative, may have a valid and legitimate reason to access another employee’s personnel file, and shouldn’t be privy to medical information. This protection also applies to former employees. Even after you leave a job, the employer must protect your medical information.
Leaking personal medical records can do more than damage the confidence an employee has in an employer. The person disclosing the information could be terminated, and the employer could be sued. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has filed suits under the ADA, claiming breaches of confidentiality, impermissible inquiries and commingling medical and personnel information. The lack of discretion could cost a company money, and go a long way to erode its business.
Occasions arise when employers must disclose an employee’s medical information. But this is different than opening someone’s records for all to see. A manager, for example, may need medical information to provide reasonable accommodations for an employee’s disability, explains Workplace Fairness, a nonprofit organization preserving employee rights. During first aid, an employer may need to disclose an illness that could affect others. The same can be said for a worker’s compensation claim.
Based in Minneapolis, Minn., Dana Severson has been writing marketing materials for small-to-mid-sized businesses since 2005. Prior to this, Severson worked as a manager of business development for a marketing company, developing targeted marketing campaigns for Big G, Betty Crocker and Pillsbury, among others.