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Disclosure of prescriptions at work
Jan 11, 2002

My employer instituted a policy about five years ago -- not long after I was hired -- stating that employees are required to tell their supervisors of any prescribed drugs they are taking. The explanation seemed to be related to employees responsible for driving or running heavy equipment -- and no one in my department handles such tasks. A few months after this policy was announced, I did begin taking medication related to my condition -- but I haven't informed my supervisors. I wonder about three things: 1. Is this requirement legal? 2. Is my employer likely to know, because of my insurance coverage for high-cost drugs, of either the meds I take or the condition they're used to treat? 3. Do I have a reponsibility to disclose the drugs, which would virtually disclose my condition? Thanks so much.

Response from Ms. Breuer

While you probably have intuited the intent behind the policy, it probably would not stand up in court, and your employer is foolish to have it. I don't imagine that all the supervisors have medical degrees, so what are they supposed to do with the knowledge that someone is taking a particular prescription? It would make far more sense to require physicians' notes when someone is taking a prescription med that might have side effects while operating machinery, for example. Even then, the note would only specify the limitations on the employee's conduct, not the drug itself.

Does your employer already know? It depends on how well the firewall is set up between the health insurance administrator and your employer. I'm guessing it's not in very good shape. This employer is flirting with a lawsuit it probably would lose.

I recommend that you ask your physician to write a note addressed to your human resources professional--even if that's the poor soul who wrote this lame policy--stipulating that while you are indeed taking prescription medications, they do not limit your fulfillment of the essential functions of your job. If your employer or supervisor asks what the drugs are, I encourage you to alert them to the protections of the Americans with Disabilities Act by having a lawyer write them a brief letter about the confidentiality of medical information. Once again, the lawyer's letter doesn't mention your diagnosis.

The reason is that your diagnosis is your business, whether or not your employer is covering the costs of your meds. Privacy law protects you, and your employer is risking a sad education in confidentiality of medical information. You can be very professional about all this and take the lead, but nothing can make you disclose your condition except that wretched application form for use of leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act--and even that is supposed to be available only to the director of HR, or the officer of the company who has HR issues in his/her portfolio.

Please write again if you need follow-up help.



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