I am sure most everyone with “HR” in their title knows that it is improper to talk about an employee’s medical condition. However, not everyone understands that and many people are prone to talk about other people without much provocation at all. However, not even many HR people know that talking about an employee’s medical condition may actually get you in legal hot water.
A nasty situation
My friend Jeff Nowak, a legal expert on FMLA, tells the story of an employee who took FMLA time for a genito-urinary tract condition. Naturally to take this time the employee had to complete paperwork regarding the condition. He was granted the time off. But, back at the office someone revealed his condition to eight fellow employees in the meeting. The employee was taking intermittent time, so when he returned to work he was questioned, apparently much to his chagrin, by fellow employees who made fun of his condition, including some obscene remarks and gestures.
Nowak states that the employee was upset and sued and the employee “argued that his employer violated the FMLA when his managers disclosed his medical condition to those without a need-to-know and when his coworkers ridiculed him for it.” The court agreed with him, much to the chagrin of the employer.
Nowak advises us that it is important for employers to train managers on the FMLA, on an annual basis, that disclosing sensitive medical information is not only improper, it is also illegal. Nowak also points out that this could result in action under the ADAAA. Can you say disability harassment?
Also, depending on definitions, there may also be some action under HIPAA as far as I know. That might all depend on who the employer was and how the information was revealed.
This is the kind of case that shows how important training is for managers, supervisors, and other staff that may be exposed to this type of information. In this particular case the final outcome of penalties and fines has not been determined, but how much money has been spent on attorneys on these ill-advised actions by the managers. You can pay for a lot of training with what they are spending on lawyers.