Handling Employee Medical Information

It is important that, if you, as a manager or supervisor are made aware of the nature of the medical condition of an employee or his/her family member, you keep the information confidential and do not share any details of this information with others. 

If it is necessary for business purposes to communicate that an employee is or will be out of work, you can indicate that they are “on leave,” but do not disclose they are on “medical leave”.

In 1996 Congress enacted the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), which mandates protecting the privacy of an individual’s personally identifiable health information.  This means that employees who go on medical leave are protected by confidentiality to prevent the nature of their or their families’ medical condition from being disclosed.  It is unlawful as well as inappropriate to convey emails, announcements at staff meetings, and other methods of communication indicating the employee is on “medical leave” as well as the specifics of employees’ (or their families’) medical conditions.

In performance evaluations, there should be no reference by the supervisor to an employee’s medical leave and/or medical issues.  As indicated above, you can reference a “leave” if necessary for business purposes, but not “medical leave.”

While it is understood that managers and supervisors have the best interest of their employees in mind, it is important to recognize the need to balance good will with good judgment, respect and discretion when handling medical issues.  The University prides itself on respecting and maintaining the privacy of its employees and their dependents.

The University’s Compassionate Donation Program provides a method for an employee to donate Vacation/Personal Leave or Earned Time to another employee in need.  Inherent in this program is becoming aware that an employee is out of work due to his or her own serious illness or that of a family member.  Oftentimes employees share their medical situation with others, which is their prerogative.  The premise of this program is for employees, who have been given this information by their colleague in need, to come forward to HR with the desire to donate their time.  This program in no way implies permission for managers and supervisors to violate HIPAA by sharing the details of a medical condition of an employee or his or her family member with others.

So what do you do if an employee comes to you and discloses the need for time away from work due to medical reasons?

For employees who need time out of work for medical reasons (including maternity leave), you should require that he or she complete these two (2) forms:  

The employee can then submit both forms to Human Resources, 2 Leavitt Lane. If an employee will be out of work for medical reasons, the Family and Medical leave (FMLA) will likely apply. 

HR maintains medical records in a file separate from employees’ personnel files, and shares medical information strictly on a need-to-know basis in accordance with FMLA and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  Any medical documentation retained in department needs to be kept in a confidential file separate from employees’ personnel files (e.g., physical limitations to performing the job, doctor’s note releasing the employee to return to work, etc.).

If you have questions on FMLA and handling medical issues, your HR Partner is available as a resource, and would be glad to attend any staff meetings to further discuss this and any other HR matters.