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What Is Medical Confidentiality in the Workplace and Why Is It Important?

Medical Confidentiality

About 76% of U.S. workers had paid sick leave in 2019. Paid sick leave is one of the ways employers often get the health information of workers. Employers also request health information for health insurance and worker’s compensation.

It's a no-brainer that an employee's health information is confidential. Yet, many employers don't fully understand this concept. Worse still, they don’t take enough measures to protect workers' health information.

Employers and employees should know more about medical confidentiality and its importance. Read our guide here to learn more about it.

What Is Medical Confidentiality?

It refers to the regulations that limit access to patients’ information shared. Unless a situation calls for disclosure, information shared with a doctor is private. Breaching this law can lead to legal consequences.

In a workplace setting, this confidentiality still applies. Employees often obtain employees' and applicants' medical information through several sources. Some of the ways an employer gets wind of their workers' medical condition include;

  • Leave requests
  • Workers’ compensation reports
  • Health insurance forms
  • Doctor’s notes on an employee absence
  • General conversation with employees

Employers should treat any medical information with the utmost privacy. While most employers understand confidentiality many don't know how protect this data. There are several state and federal laws protecting workers and their medical information.

Employers must adhere to the laws. Failure to do so might result in a lawsuit. Some of the confidentiality laws vary depending on your state.

Laws on Medical Confidentiality

Several laws protect this confidentiality in the workplace. These federal laws have been crucial in protecting workers. Here are some of the federal laws you might want to familiarize yourself with;


Do you know what is HIPPA? In its simplest definition, HIPPA is a rule that guards data privacy. HIPPA aims at safeguarding an individual’s private information.

This rule controls how a healthcare provider shares protected health records. However, this rule doesn't protect employment records with any worker's medical information. Your employer can only violate the HIPPA rule upon requesting and receiving a worker's medical information.

America's Disability Act (ADA)

The ADA is a law prohibiting discrimination against people with disabilities. It guarantees people with disabilities equal employment opportunities, among other significant benefits.

ADA protects employees from unlawful job dismissal based on one's disabilities. Disclosure is only an option if the disability is a direct threat to other employees' safety. Withdrawing a job offer based on one’s health status can lead to a lawsuit against the employer.

However, ADA allows an employer to share such information with supervisors and managers. This action is meant to inform them of necessary restrictions or accommodations they should extend to the employee. For instance, they'll know if an employee needs special first aid or safety personnel.

The first aid personnel in a company can also be informed about an employee’s condition. The information prepares them in case of an emergency. Disclosure of this information should follow the law.

Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

FMLA is one of the laws that seek to help employees to have a balance between family obligations and their work. The law advocates 12-weeks job-protected leave every year. This law allows employees to attend to family and personal medical matters.

Employees in public agencies and secondary and elementary schools are protected by this law. Medical information submitted for the FMLA leave should remain private. Disclosing the information is a breach of the FMLA law.

The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA)

GINA was enacted in 2008. It's aimed to protect people from genetic-based discrimination. This Act deters insurers from using your medical information to deny you coverage.

The legislation further prohibits employers from using this information in making job decisions. Hiring, job placement, promotions, or firing should be merit-based.

Importance of Confidentiality

Employees often share their personal medical information with employers. They are almost sure that their details are safe.

A breach of this confidentiality can lead to broken trust. The result is an unmotivated employee.

A trusting environment can help to improve productivity in the workplace. Employees will feel valued if their information is highly guarded. The results of this level of engagement will be evident in productivity.

This confidentiality in the workplace further addresses potential discrimination. If other workers got wind of their colleague's disease, they might border on discrimination. An employer puts a worker at risk of being ridiculed if the colleagues find out.

Other workers might utter discriminatory statements or even exclude the colleague. Their discrimination might even be unintentional. Ultimately, the worker suffers from stress, which will affect their work.

Maintaining confidentiality in the workplace is a great way to protect workers. Besides this, employers save themselves from potential lawsuits. Ensure that you follow the laws on this confidentiality to avoid adverse implications.

Confidentiality in the Workplace Is Essential

Medical confidentiality in the workplace is one of the most misunderstood concepts. Most employers don’t follow the laws governing this matter to the letter. Both employers and employees must, therefore, understand and follow it.

Employers should understand the implications of breaching this medical confidentiality. An employee can suffer adverse negative effects. Employers can also face legal consequences that can collapse the company due to litigation.

Ensure that you train your team on confidentiality and its importance. They will help to ensure its adherence. The results in employee engagement will be impressive.

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