Employment Law -- Employee
Your Privacy Rights - What Do I Have To Tell My Employer?
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As an employee, you might wonder if you are required to disclose certain sensitive personal facts to your employer, and how much privacy at work you actually have. In particular, medical conditions, mental health problems, and involvement with the justice system tend to be issues you might be unsure about discussing or disclosing to your employer.
In terms of medical issues, there are federal laws that can help you determine whether you are required to disclose a medical condition to your employer. Likewise, your employer’s internal policies for employees may require disclosure of some facts to your employer.
You’ll need to decide whether you are required to disclose certain personal health information to your employer based on relevant state laws and employer policies. If you are not required to do so, you’ll also need to decide if you should disclose the information to your employer.
Depending on your medical condition, federal law might require you to disclose reveal certain private information to your employer. For instance, if you are requesting that your employer grant you reasonable accommodation in your job pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), you may need to provide your employer with information to establish a disability within the meaning of the ADA to help your employer determine reasonable accommodation.
Similarly, if you are requesting medical leave from work due to a certain medical condition for more than a number of specified days, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and/or your employer’s internal policies may require you to obtain a medical certificate from your doctor certifying the existence of a serious medical condition and need for health care as defined by the FMLA. Therefore, there are some circumstances in which you must absolutely disclose pertinent information relevant to your medical condition to your employer.
There are other considerations that may affect your decision to disclose certain personal information to your employer, as well. Disclosing certain health conditions, to your employer may make your work environment less stressful and account for any changes in your behavior while in the workplace.
Plus, with knowledge of your condition, your employer can assist you if you become suddenly ill or in need of medical treatment while in the workplace. On the other hand, you may fear discrimination or retaliation by your employer if you admit to having a medical condition; unfortunately, not all employers are as understanding and accommodating as they should be.
In many states, your employer can be liable if they violate state confidentiality laws by disclosing medical conditions of employees. Unless the person your employer has shared the information with has a legitimate reason to know as it relates to your employment, the employer is breaking the law and violating employee rights by sharing an employee’s private medical information. You could seek legal advice and file a civil lawsuit against your employer to seek compensation for damages.
Generally, employers have the right to ask applicants and employees for written consent to perform a background check. With respect to arrests, criminal convictions, and other types of involvement with the criminal justice system, state law varies widely on the type of information that you must disclose to your employer, either when you are being hired for a position, or after you have already been hired.
Some jobs may be directly related to certain types of criminal convictions, which may give your employer grounds to discipline you or terminate your employment, depending on state law and/or your employer’s internal policies. However, this doesn’t mean that an employer can fire you just for a criminal conviction. According to the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission, your employer must consider:
- The nature and seriousness of the offense
- The time past the conviction
- How both nature and time past the conviction relate to your position
Most states also limit the type of information employers can access through background checks, but this is dependent on the state where you are employed. For instance, in California, employers cannot ask you about certain marijuana convictions that are more than two years old.
If you hold a professional license that an arrest or criminal conviction could affect, it is probably wise to tell your employer before the appropriate licensing agency takes any action.
There is also the risk that your employer will independently discover information about you that you did not disclose as an employee or on your application. This could result in discipline or termination of employment, depending on your employer’s policies and/or the laws of your state.
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