Many people find themselves in an all-too-familiar bind at work: they need some kind of accommodation for a medical condition, perhaps even a break from working altogether, but they’re afraid to make the request because co-workers might harbor negative thoughts about their condition. Thankfully, federal and state laws provide some comfort to these employees by limiting how that kind of medical information is shared in the workplace.
In general, most employers must follow the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). These laws require an employer to respond in certain ways to accommodate a person’s medical needs. In the case of the ADA, an employer is required to make reasonable adjustments to a person’s work conditions to accommodate certain disabilities. The FMLA permits people to leave their job for certain periods of time in order to deal with their own qualifying medical conditions or the conditions of certain loved ones. There are also state laws that offer more general protections against people spreading protected information to the public.
Whether an employee seeks accommodation or time off to deal with a medical condition, the employee must let the employer know some details about that medical condition. The employer might need to share this information with others, such as nurses, consultants, or medical examiners, to learn more about your request. This is where both the ADA and FMLA protect the employee. So long as the manager, supervisor, or other person is receiving this medical information in connection with a request made under the ADA or FMLA, that information cannot be spread to coworkers.
But what if the manager decided to tell everyone? A court will likely say that the manager is “interfering” with the employee’s right to seek the protection of the ADA and FMLA. Often that employee will have a right to bring suit against them to recover for the damages, including any emotional distress caused by the revelation. More importantly, one could seek the assistance of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or N.H. Commission for Human Rights. Either of these agencies could investigate the claim and make a ruling against the employer that enables the person to seek relief. Acting quickly is important, though, as these agencies have strict and quick filing deadlines.
If you think you might have a claim, it’s worth discussing the pros and cons of filing suit with a lawyer experienced in handling workplace privacy issues. A detailed analysis can make a significant difference in determining the extent of your damages and how to present your claim. To get started, call us at Douglas, Leonard & Garvey, P.C., (603) 288-1403 or fill out our online contact form.