By Meghan Droste, March 19, 2020
I imagine many of you are spending fair amount of time right now refreshing your online news source of choice for updates on COVID-19. There’s no doubt that this is a stressful and possibly scary time, with a lot of unknowns about how and for how long this pandemic will impact our day-to-day lives. If you are concerned, I completely understand.
In this stressful time, I want to take a moment to remind you about improper medical inquires. In short: Don’t make them! Slightly longer advice: Be mindful of when you can ask employees for medical information or documentation. A global pandemic does not suspend the application of the Rehabilitation Act or the Americans with Disabilities Act, so it is important to remember that agencies may only request medical information in very specific circumstances.
Employers may only ask current employees for medical information or documentation if it is job-related and consistent with business necessity. This means that in many (but not all) circumstances, an agency may request medical documentation to support a request for reasonable accommodations. It also means that an agency cannot request medical documentation because it is curious and wants to know if an employee has a medical condition. If one of your employees shows up with the sniffles in the next few weeks, you should not automatically demand a letter from their doctor establishing that it is seasonal allergies and not something worse.
Agencies may also request medical information when there is a concern an employee will pose a direct threat while performing the essential functions of their position due to a medical condition. Be careful with these inquiries as well. An agency may not request all medical records, just those related to the specific condition at issue, and the request must be based on an individualized assessment and on reasonable medical judgment that relies on the most current medical knowledge and/or best objective evidence. That Facebook post you just saw about the symptoms of COVID-19? It’s not objective evidence. The musings of a health expert on TV? Also not objective evidence.
Tread carefully out there and when in doubt, check with knowledgeable folks at your agency before asking an employee to reveal information about their health. (Also, wash your hands!) Droste@FELTG.com