Why do potential employers need access to past, present, and future health records?
June 23, 2012 5:59 AM   Subscribe

Why do prospective employers ask access to past, current, and future health records? And can one decline?

Several employment applications have the following statement:

"I expressly waive all provisions of law prohibiting any physician, person, hospital or other institution that has or may hereafter attend or furnish me with treatment from disclosing to the Company any knowledge or information thereby acquired."

Why do they need this information? It seems excessive and possibly illegal--can one decline to provide them with it? Assume the position has no special physical or health requirements but is an office job.
posted by agent99 to Work & Money (11 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Just found this question, from 2006; the answers seem to suggest that it might be legal but then again maybe not. But I am wondering if anything has changed since then. This is for New York State.
posted by agent99 at 6:19 AM on June 23, 2012

What kind of job is this? I know some pofessionals such as pilots have to do yearly physical examinations to retain their licenses. Maybe there's some special case here? Regardless of legality, I'd probably walk away from a job that wanted my health records for no good reason. But depending on the job, there might be a good reason.
posted by Scientist at 6:45 AM on June 23, 2012

I would add to Scientist's comment the idea that companies often have generic applications that contain verbiage that may only be applicable to a relatively small number of positions. If these are large companies (or are all using the same web-application provider), they may just have that in there because it's easier than having an extra field that some HR person has to fill out when coding each position opening.
posted by Etrigan at 6:55 AM on June 23, 2012

It could be that companies are trying to protect themselves from future spurious worker's comp cases. Due to the nature of my job I hear about most of my company's workers comp claims from beginning to end, and you would not believe how many employees try to pass off pre-existing injuries or conditions as being caused by on-the-job accidents.
posted by something something at 7:06 AM on June 23, 2012

Assume this is an office job, and that ALL the company's employees perform office jobs (no pilots, no physical labor).
posted by agent99 at 7:09 AM on June 23, 2012

Does this company provide its employees with health insurance? Maybe this is some way of keeping track of their premiums??
posted by EatMyHat at 7:56 AM on June 23, 2012

I don't know what this language even accomplishes. Given how touchy healthcare providers are about even appearing to violate HIPAA, I doubt they would actually hand over your info if the employer waved a copy of this job application in front of them.

It seems like The 419 scammer technique posted on the blue recently, where they weed out savvy marks by all-but-declaring they're a Nigerian scammer.

Maybe the company is trying to chase off self-respecting applicants, leaving the most obedient, compliant applicants, who are less likely to assert their rights as employees?
posted by univac at 8:09 AM on June 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

can one decline to provide them with it?

Yes you can decline to provide anyone with personal information about yourself.

I am worried about you that this is part of your question. You have ultimate control over yourself, and there are very few times that authority figures have control over you unless you specifically allow it. Someone accepting a job application from you is not one of those situations.
posted by fritley at 9:38 AM on June 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

The ADA permits post-job offer, pre-employment medical inquiries and does not require that these inquiries be directly tied to the prospective job duties. (State laws may differ. California law requires that such post-offer pre-employment inquiries be job related and consistent with business necessity.) But pre-job offer, such inquiries are definitively barred by the ADA and the EEOC's guidance documents. And on the job -- such inquiries must be job related and consistent with business necessity. The application forms you describe in the context of an office job are unlawful. Fact sheet on the ADA and job applicants. Guidance re on-the-job inquiries.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 10:15 AM on June 23, 2012 [5 favorites]

There are some variations in the law applicable to background checks. If the office job has access to financial information or other money / personal information, there may be a background check. If this is the fact pattern, then that is a twist, and the analysis of the question may differ.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 10:19 AM on June 23, 2012

I think/hope most hospitals and doctors would not release your medical records if some company showed them a waiver such as this. I also hope that any sane individual would not sign a waiver. Unfortunately, the world is changing against worker's rights.
posted by JJ86 at 1:18 PM on June 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

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