Just last week I posted an article discussing what sort of information an individual needs to give to their employer when they are suffering from a medical issue. In that article, I noted that many employers request very broad releases, sometimes requesting access to any and all medical information on the employee. Well this week the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has filed suit against a Minnesota company for this exact issue! (hat tip to the Employer Handbook for pointing out the press release) Hit the jump for the details…
Before we get started, bear in mind that the only information we have at this time comes from the EEOC’s complaint, so it is possible that the actual facts that might be shown at trial are very different.
The EEOC alleges that an employee took time off work due to a medical issue. When the employee sought to return to work, the employer required that the individual undergo a fitness for duty examination. In order to facilitate that examination, the employer requested that the employee sign “various medical releases that sought irrelevant information.” When the employee objected to the releases he was told that he either had to sign them or be terminated. The employer then terminated the employee for failure to sign the forms.
One thing to note about this lawsuit is that the EEOC is not challenging the fact that the individual was required to complete a fitness for duty examination. These examinations are very common after an individual has been absent for medical reasons (and in limited circumstances while the individual is still working). In general, so long as the examination is related to the job duties there is nothing improper about this requirement.
The EEOC suit focuses on two possible violations of federal statutes. The first is that the overly broad release was not related to the individual’s job, and therefore violated the American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA). The second claim is that the broad release would have led to the disclosure of family medical history and requesting such information is prohibited by the Genetic Information Nondisclosure Act (GINA). GINA is a relatively new statute, it was passed only in 2008, and has become a recent hotbed for litigation.
It is impossible to know at this point how the lawsuit will work out but at the very least this should put employers on notice that they need to be very careful about their medical releases. Compared to the number of complaints the EEOC receives they take very few cases so they must believe this is an issue important enough to litigate (and with facts in their favor).