privacy waiver for work?
July 11, 2007 5:38 PM   Subscribe

Do I have to let my boss talk to my doctor?

I recently had some problems with blacking out. I had a couple of incidents at work, and my boss and I agreed together that I would take a few days off and see a doctor to figure out what was going on.

Well, the doctor did figure out what the problem was, and I haven't had any more problems since then. The doctor gave me a note that says I can return to work, and I want to return to work.

But now my boss's boss heard about the problem. He wants to talk to my doctor in order to make sure there is no problem with me working. I work in a warehouse where a lot of machinery is used, and I can see why he could be concerned about safety issues. But I feel that the doctors release should be enough. I do not particularly like or trust this man and do not want to sign a waiver allowing him to talk to my doctor. Does he have the right to insist that I do? How should I talk to him about it?
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Do you have an HR contact? Talk to them. You have every right to doctor/patient confidentiality. Your boss's demand sounds like it might not be legal, and it's definitely shady.
posted by tastybrains at 5:45 PM on July 11, 2007

You don't mention what country (or state if you're a USian), but I imagine that if ANYONE were to talk to your doctor it would be HR. But even then, I'm fairly confident that they wouldn't do that anyway.
posted by sephira at 5:46 PM on July 11, 2007

Ask him what his specific concerns are. Tell those to your doctor. Ask your doctor to write a letter addressing those concerns. If that isn't enough, I don't know what is. But your boss has no legal right to know what your medical condition is--only that it does not affect your ability to work.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 5:49 PM on July 11, 2007

Not under HIPAA. Your physician needs your expressed written consent to release PHI (private health information) to a 3rd party not directly involved in your healthcare.

Whether your work overlords will force the issue and insist that you comply is probably a conversation you should have with your attorney.
posted by i_am_a_Jedi at 5:50 PM on July 11, 2007

You have not provided enough information for anyone to competently answer your question, so I would not take seriously any legal advice you receive here. Your rights strongly depend on what country/state you live in; and may further depend on your length of service, terms & conditions, etc. If you have a union rep, I suggest you make use of them.

Setting aside the legal position - if you feel you actually are "safe to work" and have nothing to hide, you may have to balance the detriment of your management getting confirmation of that from source (or even in you being examined by a company doctor, say?), against the invasion of privacy.

Also bear in mind that your employer may be mindful of all sorts of insurance/safety/liability problems etc he may be carrying, rather than concerned about you as an individual worker.
posted by wilko at 6:03 PM on July 11, 2007

Yeah, that sounds wierd. See if the company has a policy about return to work. They might be able to send you (at their expense) to a third party physician. But no, not under HIPAA.

This sounds like one of those things that might be resolved with better communication among people.
posted by dpx.mfx at 6:05 PM on July 11, 2007

IANAL It's reasonable for an employer to make sure it's safe for you to use heavy machinery, in fact, they might be negligent not to. Your doctor can provide written assurance that there is no medical reason prohibiting you from operating heavy machinery. Or, your employer can send you to a physician of their choosing who may provide them with the same assurance. Let your employer quiz your physician? Absolutely not.
posted by theora55 at 6:26 PM on July 11, 2007

I'd be worried they were trying to proactively find out my condition so they could somehow prevent me from using health insurance benefits. But maybe I'm cynical. Or maybe your boss's boss is worried your condition is lawsuit material. Whatever the case, it is a crazy request. They have no business talking to your doctor. A doctor's note addressing their specific concerns is all they should get.
posted by selfmedicating at 6:32 PM on July 11, 2007

Nah, I'd go the other way. Call your doctor. Explain to him that your boss is a pain. Tell your doctor that he may reveal that you're fine, but nothing more as you don't consent to anything past that. And ask the doctor if he'd kindly say "C'mon, BOSS'S NAME HERE> That's confidential doctor/patient information. I can just tell you that he's fit for work." Doctors are extremely busy (like the rest of us); try to catch him very first thing in the morning. And yeah, don't fill out any paperwork giving consent.
posted by filmgeek at 6:46 PM on July 11, 2007

no, that's wrong for him to talk to your doctor. you're his employee, not his child. don't consent.

if he wants reassurance, i suppose he could write a letter to your doctor detailing the nature of your job and having your doctor sign off on it. it's redundant to the note you already supplied, but it may get him off your back, at least.
posted by thinkingwoman at 7:06 PM on July 11, 2007

It's invasion of privacy; the boss has no right to talk to the doc
posted by uncballzer at 8:49 PM on July 11, 2007

I am not a lawyer nor do i know anything about HIPAA. When you speak to a lawyer, ask that person if you may be better off by providing the information. It may make you more difficult to fire if they know you have some sort of medical condition that does not affec t your work. You could claim you were discriminated against because of your medical issue that you were coerced into signing and disclosing.

Otherwise, I would simply ignore the request. Have they given you a deadline to respond or else? Just tell them you haven't had a chance to discuss it with your wife/attorney/father or whomever. Stone wall them. Then if they insist, ask them to put the request and the reason for the request in writing so you can show it to whomever your advisor is. Eventually they will either tip their hand or give up asking.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:51 PM on July 11, 2007

Do I have to let my boss talk to my doctor?

Absolutely not. If your doc has cleared you for return to work, that's the end of it. If you are fired, disciplined, demoted, relieved of significant responsibilities, or take a pay cut or any other sort of retaliatory action because you don't authorize your employer to talk further to your doc, your employer's violated Federal law.

A lot of my patients prefer that I just talk with their boss, which I'll do; but I don't really approve of this. Your health information is your business; it's only your employer's business if it interferes with your ability to do your job, and you've already cleared up that issue with the doctor's note that says you can return to work. If I were you, the next time your boss brings it up I'd just say "My attorney advised me I don't have to comply with that request; my doctor already cleared me for work" and see if he pushes his luck.

You don't say where you are; we're all assuming that you're a US citizen. Some other countries don't have as strong protections.
posted by ikkyu2 at 11:04 PM on July 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

Get a note from your doc that is specific to the heavy machinery etc. at work. I would be wary about letting your boss have a free conversation with your doctor. If you do allow this I would put some restrictions on it, like you being present and the conversation being limited solely to your fitness to return to work, and if there is anything embarrassing or that you otherwise do not want your employer to know you should tell the doctor in private before the conversation with your employer that you do not give permission to release information on that subject. So many things could go wrong. I would stick with a well written note.
posted by caddis at 12:48 AM on July 12, 2007

If your boss wants a medical evaluation of you he should send you to his company doctor and pay the bill.
posted by dkippe at 5:57 AM on July 12, 2007

Dkippe is right. Workplace safety medical screenings should be performed by doctors / nurses / labs working for the employer (or the employer's insurer).

Relying on a conversation with the employee's personal physician might be illegal under certain circumstances (depending upon HIPAA, ADA, and state medical privacy canons) and is any event terribly bad business. An average personal physician doesn't have the first idea what the applicable risk parameters, regulatory requirements, or insurance covenants might be.

In fact, it's strange that operators of a warehouse with heavy equipment don't know this already.
posted by MattD at 6:32 AM on July 12, 2007

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