Can a US employer ask what medications I'm on?
February 16, 2012 7:55 AM   Subscribe

An employer decides to update their employee database and distributes a form with the usual name, address, emergency contact stuff on it. There is also a line for "Any medications you are currently taking."

It's not clear or implied that the answer will affect employment, but it's not clear that it won't either. Filling the form is a requirement for getting the employee's paycheck. Some of the employees at this company operate machines. The company has a random drug testing policy in effect. Public safety is not a concern; we're not talking about pilots or bus drivers or anything like that.

Can a company in the US ask what medications their employees are taking?
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (13 answers total)
To get a "real" answer, you are going to have to consult an employment-law attorney. This is not at all a cut and dried situation.
posted by Juffo-Wup at 8:01 AM on February 16, 2012 [4 favorites]

There is not an absolute bar to asking these sorts of questions, but they are restricted by the ADA. Therefore, the question would need to be job related and consistent with business necessity. There would also be restrictions on how they could disclose or distribute the information.

See, for instance:
Once a person is hired and has started work, an employer generally can only ask medical questions or require a medical exam if the employer needs medical documentation to support an employee's request for an accommodation or if the employer believes that an employee is not able to perform a job successfully or safely because of a medical condition.

The law also requires that employers keep all medical records and information confidential and in separate medical files.
Souce: I'm no lawyer, fyi. There may well be other restrictions based on your state law or under other rules and regulations that apply to your company.
posted by Lame_username at 8:14 AM on February 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

Under the ADA, medical inquiries of employees must be "job related and consistent with business necessity." 42 U.S.C. 12112(d)(4). Here is the EEOC guidance on this rule.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 8:14 AM on February 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

My work did something similar, but for insurance purposes. I don't know if it was a legit question, but my philosophy has always been my body, my rights. It is none of their damn business what medications I am taking.

I simply put N/A on the form, and I had no issues after that.
posted by handbanana at 8:24 AM on February 16, 2012 [12 favorites]

You might also ask HR why they're asking the question.

In my CERT training we talked about that as an early question to ask so that you could schedule and prioritize getting medicines for people who needed them, but were otherwise part of the rescue team and you'd never know that in 24 hours they were going to be worthless or dead unless you made it a pooint to ask.

The reason for this question might be motivated by similar disaster preparedness concerns, in which case you might want to say "see the sealed envelope in the top left drawer of my desk detailing specific medical needs in the event of emergency", or otherwise work with HR to create the sort of resource that would be useful if you have a "need to shelter in-place for a few days" sort of emergency (major earthquake, Katrina style flood, etc) but still preserves employee privacy.
posted by straw at 8:33 AM on February 16, 2012

Might they be asking this question for first aid-type reasons? Like, wanting to know if employees need epi pens, puffers, are on blood-thinning meds, nitro for angina - that kind of thing, which it would be good to know if said employee was unconscious or otherwise unresponsive?
posted by purlgurly at 8:49 AM on February 16, 2012

Just write "none". They will never know (unless some narcotic derivative shows up in your urine for the random urine test).
posted by Rad_Boy at 8:50 AM on February 16, 2012

I would just put N/A and turn it in. Odds are somebody is just going to check off that the form is complete and file it. If they do come back to you, simply say the question didn't seem applicable to your job, so you answered appropriately. If you put "no" on the form you are technically lying, which could present an issue.
posted by COD at 9:01 AM on February 16, 2012

Hi, I'm the person who made the form!

I also receive them, file them away, and retrieve them as needed.

FWIW, my forms don't have anything about medical information on them, at all. But for what I'm about to tell you, that point is moot.

Bottom line?

About 30% of employees either don't fill them out completely, fill them out with obviously bogus/non-useful information, or have handwriting so illegible that they might as well not be filled out at all. I have never been asked to follow up with people to make sure we have this information on file in a complete, correct, and efficient manner.

So my advice? Just skip that question, or write some illegible scrawl in that space that looks like it might say "naproxen as needed" or "epipen in my locker" or whatever. If HR follows up with you for specifics, that would be the time to consult an employment lawyer.
posted by Sara C. at 9:37 AM on February 16, 2012

It sounds like, based on the context of the question, that they are probably just trying to figure out whether there are employees who are going to die if they don't have certain medications, if everyone gets snowed-in at the office or something.

If that situation doesn't apply to you, I would not bother putting anything down. The fact that you sometimes take allergy pills or birth control or whatever (things that you will not die for lack of) is almost guaranteed to be irrelevant, so I would not put anything down.

Assuming that is really what they're trying for, it's a pretty badly-worded question. And worse, it doesn't ask the even more important question, which is if someone might require a life-saving medication which they are not currently taking, but needs to be kept on-hand (e.g. epiphenrine, nitroglycerine, rescue inhaler, etc.), and that it might be good to have in an emergency "go bag" in case you can't get back to your office/locker for it. That would be useful to know, if they are trying to be useful in an emergency.

All that said, it's useful to keep a list of all drugs that you're taking (and drug allergies!) in your wallet. It saves a lot of time and spares you from having to remember them if you're ever in the back of an ambulance.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:17 AM on February 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

In one of my former jobs, we had forms like this that were filed with the occupational health nurse, who was required by HIPAA to maintain confidentiality. They were for emergency situations. If you take a medication that would affect emergency care (blood thinner, insulin), I would put that drug only, otherwise N/A.
posted by kamikazegopher at 10:40 AM on February 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Just leave it blank.
posted by Slinga at 2:59 PM on February 16, 2012

Nthing the emergency info only--something life threatening should be known at minimum to one trusty coworker or a boss you know has your back. Putting all your RX info out there for anyone in HR? Not me. I certainly wouldn't do it if you have "mental issues"--bipolar, depression, etc.
posted by BlueHorse at 4:22 PM on February 16, 2012

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