UNION REP TEST #4 (EEO- Medical Information Privacy)

The rehabilitation Act prohibits managers from disclosing physical or mental medical information they have about an employee to anyone without a legitimate reason to know.  Nonetheless, managers repeatedly ignore the rule and violate the employee’s right to privacy. Consequently, it will help employees get corrective action including money damages if union reps are familiar with the many situations in which the law is violated.  Below are a series of situations where medical information was disclosed.  See if you can identify the ones where the law was violated and those where the manager did nothing wrong. The answers are at the end of the quiz questions.


#1           When the supervisor noticed employees giving a co-worker a hard time, the supervisor became worried it might result in some workplace violence.  So he pulled the taunting employees aside and told them to stop because the employee was receiving psychiatric counselling.

#2           When a supervisor assigned an employee to work with a contractor on a project in a remote part of the building, he told the contractor to keep an eye on her because she was on medication that might make her behavior erratic.

#3           When an employee informed her manager that she will need some sick leave because of pending knee replacement surgery, her supervisor passed on that information on to her supervisors so that they are aware of a potential need to reassign the absent employee’s work.  

#4           When preparing an employee’s mid-year proficiency report, the supervisor wrote that even though she had done some work poorly it was probably due to her receiving psychiatric care for major depression.

#5           When a supervisor came across an employee smoking with two co-workers he confronted him and criticized him for smoking even though he had heart disease.  He also asked if he had told his heart doctor that he smoked.

#6           When a union rep asked an employee’s supervisor why one of her unit employees was being barred from the building suddenly, the supervisor said it was due to the employee being placed on the building’s may not enter list due to a medical condition.

#7           Because she was working under a sick leave restriction letter, an employee gave her supervisor a copy of a letter from her doctor. It contained a description of the employee’s medical condition, i.e., sever hemorrhoids. Because the employee specially said she was not claiming it was a disability or requesting a reasonable accommodation the supervisor put the letter in a file he kept on each of his employee’s work and also allowed another supervisor who filled in for him for two weeks to see that file.

#8           When a second line manager asked one of her first line managers why a certain employee had been absent for three days, the manager told her it was because the employee had undergone a medical procedure.

#9           A supervisor left a copy of an e-mail from HR on his desk that contained confidential medical information about an employee’s request for light duty.  When an employee entered the supervisor’s office when the supervisor was out to get an unrelated file off the supervisor’s desk he read the memo and later told the employee he was sorry for the problem the employee was having.


#1.          We commend the manager for the concern for worker safety, but this is not the way to handle it. In fact, EEOC has held it to be a violation of law.  Check out our post entitled, “    “EEOC To Managers.”

#2           This is a violation of the law.  See our post entitled, “She Is On Mediation” for more details about how the employee was entitled to money damages.

#3           This is a violation of law. See our post entitled, “Medical Privacy Quiz” for a list of the only exceptions EEOC allows to the privacy requirement.

#4           Not even close.  This is a violation because even if the supervisor did this to explain why he was not taking action against the employee, it was wrong.  See our post entitled, “Zip It! When Managers Violate Your Privacy.

#5           We can understand and even sympathize the manager’s concern for the employee’s health, but by addressing the employee in front of co-workers he crossed the line.  Good intentions do not count for a thing in this area of law.  Check out our post entitled, “EEOC To Managers:  Zip It!

#6           Wrong again.  Management cannot disclose medical information to a union rep unless it has the employee’s explicit information to tell the union rep what it knows about the medical issue.   Check out Felton A., v. Megan J. Brennan, Postmaster General, EEOC No. 0120182134 (2019)

#7           It does not matter if the medical information is not related to a covered disability.  That kind of medical information should have been kept apart from the other work records and never shared with another manager unless that person had a business-related need to know about it. Check out Richard Higgins, v. Dr. James G. Roche, Secretary, Department of the Air Force, EEOC No.  01A13571 (2003)

#8           This is permissible because disclosure of an unspecified medical procedure does not violation the employee’s privacy rights. Taryn S., v. Peter O’Rourke,  Department of Veterans Affairs, EEOC No. 0120162172 (2018)

#9           The law has been violated. It does not matter that the employee should not have read the memo or that the disclosure was unintentional or a one-time event. Mario G., v. Dr. Heather A. Wilson, Secretary, Department of the Air Force, EEOC No. 0120150193 (2017)

About AdminUN

FEDSMILL staff has over 40 years of federal sector labor relations experience on the union as well as management side of the table and even some time as a neutral.
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