Your Privacy Rights - What Do I Have To Tell My Employer?

Employees often wonder whether they are required to disclose certain sensitive personal facts to their employers, and may fear retaliation if they do so. In particular, medical conditions, mental health problems, and involvement with the justice system tend to be issues that employees are unsure about discussing or disclosing to an employer. In terms of medical issues, there are some 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. Based on relevant laws and employer policies, then, you will need to decide whether you are required to disclose certain personal information to your employer, and if you are not required to do so, whether you should nonetheless disclose the information to your employer.
Depending on the nature and effects of your medical condition, you may be required by federal law to disclose certain aspects of your condition to your employer. For instance, if you are requesting that your employer grant you a reasonable accommodation pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), you will need to provide information to your employer that is sufficient to establish that you are disabled within the meaning of the ADA, and in order to help your employer determine what accommodation would be reasonable in your situation. Similarly, if you are requesting to take 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 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. If you suffer from a certain medical condition, disclosing this fact to your employer may make your work environment less stressful, and account for any changes in your behavior while at work. Plus, having knowledge of your condition may enable your employer to assist you if you become suddenly ill or in need of medical treatment while in the workplace. Furthermore, in many states, your employer can be liable if they violate state confidentiality laws by disclosing certain medical conditions of employees to others, such as the fact that an employer is HIV positive. 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/or accommodating as they should be. 
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 must be disclosed 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 employers grounds to discipline you or terminate your employment, depending on state law and/or your employer’s internal policies. Likewise, if you hold a professional license that may be affected by an arrest or criminal conviction, then it is probably wise to tell your employer before any action is taken by the appropriate licensing agency. Finally, there is always the risk that your employer will independently discover information about you that you did not first disclose to your employer while working for him or her, or that you failed to disclose on your application. This situation, too, could result in your discipline or termination of employment, again, depending on your employer’s policies and/or the laws of your state.

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