One given principle of the Americans With Disabilities Act provides that employee medical information obtained from “medical examinations and inquiries” must be treated as a confidential medical record. The issue is what is an inquiry?
Consider these facts: an employee failed to report to work. The employer sent the employee an email, asking him what he was doing. The employee replied with an email stating he had a severe migraine.
Shortly thereafter, the employee quit his job. Future employers contacted the former employer and asked for a reference. The former employer responded by saying that the ex-employee had “medical conditions” involving migraines, but that this wasn’t an issue in his job performance.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed suit against the former employer, claiming that its disclosure of the medical condition was a per se violation of the ADA. The employer defended by arguing that its receipt of the employee’s medical information, in the email the employee initiated, was not obtained from a medical inquiry.
The court ruled for the employer. It rejected the EEOC’s argument that any communication between an employer and an employee, initiated by the employer, which results in the disclosure of medical information is an “inquiry.”
Rather, the court held that before there can be an inquiry, the employer must already know that the employee had a medical problem or condition. In this case, the ex-employer had no idea that the employee had a medical problem when it sent the first email. The employer only knew that the employee had not reported to work.
The employer escaped liability in this case. The ex-employer should not have disclosed the information about the ex-employee’s migraines. Notwithstanding this decision, all medical information, regardless of how obtained, should be kept confidential. It should only be used to provide reasonable accommodations, or to provide first aid, to the employee.