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Is my employer entitled to the reason for my medical disability? Pennsylvania

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  • Is my employer entitled to the reason for my medical disability? Pennsylvania

    I was recently put on 6 weeks concurrent FMLA and disability due to an undiagnosed illness. I can't work. My employer told me to do this. The letter from my doctor stating I can't work says I need to be evaluated and then treated for my illness, but doesn't have a diagnosis. My employer told the disability company I'm having stomach problems.

    It may be that my problem is physical, or it may be put in the area of psychiatric (stress). I'm hoping to get answers this or next week--there are several medical appts set.

    My questions are :
    1) Do I have any privacy rights regarding my diagnosis?
    I would prefer my employer not know if I'm diagnosed with a psychiatric condition (which has caused some physical problems, I guess). They may think my job caused the problems, which could possibly make them see me as a liability to the company, and they could lay me off after the FMLA 12 weeks is up.

    I know I have to send a doctor's note to my employer if he extends my disability term, but:
    2) Does the note have to be specific in diagnosis?
    3) Can my doctor talk to the disability company directly and give them a diagnosis and write a generic letter to my employer?

    Thank you very much!

  • #2
    1) Do I have any privacy rights regarding my diagnosis?
    I would prefer my employer not know if I'm diagnosed with a psychiatric condition (which has caused some physical problems, I guess). They may think my job caused the problems, which could possibly make them see me as a liability to the company, and they could lay me off after the FMLA 12 weeks is up.
    At such time as your medical condition is diagnosed, you're going to have to complete/update the FMLA certification paperwork and the STD form, which must be returned to your employer. In this context, your diagnosis falls in the category of "employment records" and is not protected health information. So the answer to your question is no.

    It would be incredibly stupid (and unlawful) for your employer to lay you off because you took FMLA and/or because of a mental health diagnosis so we can probably assume that won't happen.


    I know I have to send a doctor's note to my employer if he extends my disability term, but:
    2) Does the note have to be specific in diagnosis?
    The note doesn't but the FMLA and STD forms will need to be.

    3) Can my doctor talk to the disability company directly and give them a diagnosis and write a generic letter to my employer? Probably not. Your employer is entitled to that information under the FMLA in order to determine if you qualify for FMLA leave.

    I tend to doubt you need to worry about this. I expect you work with any number of managers and co-workers who are either being treated for a mental health issue (depression, anxiety, whatever) or have a family member who is.

    Comment


    • #3
      Beth,
      Thanks so much for your reply. You've been very helpful and have eased some anxiety.

      One quick question (for you or anyone who would like to reply):

      Re:
      Originally posted by Beth3 View Post
      It would be incredibly stupid (and unlawful) for your employer to lay you off because you took FMLA and/or because of a mental health diagnosis so we can probably assume that won't happen.
      I tend to doubt you need to worry about this. I expect you work with any number of managers and co-workers who are either being treated for a mental health issue (depression, anxiety, whatever) or have a family member who is.
      Can't any employer lay anyone off for any reason (in at-will states, which I think PA is)? I guess I'm anxious they'll see me as a liability (if the diagnosis is psychiatric) and make up a reason to get rid of me, i.e.: poor economic conditions, after the 12 week FMLA. Of course, they wouldn't state they're laying me off because of a (possible) psychiatric diagnosis, in order to protect themselves. Aren't they in the driving seat re: this?

      Thanks.

      Comment


      • #4
        In an at-will state, which is every state except Montana and even including Montana in some circumstances, you can quit at any time and for any reason, and an employer can fire you at any time and for any reason except one that specificially violates the law. The law specifically prohibits an employer from terming an employee because they applied for or utilized FMLA, and it specifically prohibits an employer from terming any employee because they have a disability.
        The above answer, whatever it is, assumes that no legally binding and enforceable contract or CBA says otherwise. If it does, then the terms of the contract or CBA apply.

        Comment


        • #5
          Originally posted by cbg View Post
          In an at-will state, which is every state except Montana and even including Montana in some circumstances, you can quit at any time and for any reason, and an employer can fire you at any time and for any reason except one that specificially violates the law. The law specifically prohibits an employer from terming an employee because they applied for or utilized FMLA, and it specifically prohibits an employer from terming any employee because they have a disability.
          Thanks for the reply.
          So, based upon the above, my employer could use any reason, or no reason, to terminate me if they thought I became a liability (i.e.: a psychiatric case) to their firm? If those in power think an employee with a treatable psychiatric problem (depression, stress) is a stigma, who is to stop them from lying and saying, after the 12 week FMLA period is over and done with, "you are fired" without giving a reason, or maybe by saying "due to the current economic conditions?" Waiting for the FMLA period to be over before termination wouldn't leave them open to any form of legal attack from the terminated employee, correct? As far as disability goes, again, I don't think an employer would actually say they were firing someone because of their disabilityas the employer should know that would be illegal as well. All the employer has to do is make something up and out I go, if they want...right?

          I guess the bottom line is:
          If the employer wants me out because I'm diagnosed with a condition they consider a stigma, they can find a loophole to do so. Especially with the current economy, they could easily use that for a reason and I could never fight them on it.

          Employers can lie about reasons for termination, correct? Or terminate without any reason, even if it is due to a disability. Silence is golden.

          Comment


          • #6
            Yes, the employer could trump up a reason to terminate anyone.

            However, if you knew the number of people with psychological problems and on some kind of antidepressant or other mood altering drug in the workplace, you would know that this isnt as big an issue as you think.

            While I understand you dont want this to be disclosed for your own privacy, it is a big issue to you but probably much less of an issue for your employer.

            In the course of processing FMLA medical certs, I know a heck of a lot more about my employees physical and mental health than I care to know...but it doesnt leave this office unless there is a clear need.
            I find that the harder I work, the more luck I seem to have.
            Thomas Jefferson

            Comment


            • #7
              The appropriate regulatory agencies are not easily fooled by employers who use pretext reasons to get rid of someone for illegal reasons. I don't think it would be quite so easy for an employer to get away with this as you appear to think. I'm not saying they wouldn't try - there are employers who will and I don't know your employer. But that doesn't mean you couldn't sue and win.
              The above answer, whatever it is, assumes that no legally binding and enforceable contract or CBA says otherwise. If it does, then the terms of the contract or CBA apply.

              Comment


              • #8
                Although I do agree that people with mental illnesses are still stigmatized, I can't see that stigma being applied to a person with an anxiety-related stomach ailment.

                Come on, you're not likely to be diagnosed with a severe mental illness (on that does get stigmatized) due to what you are including in your post.

                If all physical problems are ruled out, you are likely to get Generalized Anxiety Disorder, or a Somatoform Disorder diagnosis. Neither carries much of a stigma: most of us at some point in our lives could qualify for Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and most of the general public has never even heard of Somatoform Disorders.

                Also, it's not like everyone at work will know your diagnosis. It's likely just one person in HR, and they aren't permitted to blab it around the office to others. In most cases, your direct supervisor won't even know or need to know. Even if someone in HR blabs, the worst people will think is "oh, he had some stomach problems from stress" and they probably know 12 other people who also experienced that.



                Employers for the most part fire people who don't do their jobs or who cause problems. They don't tend to fire people who just came back from FMLA who are otherwise good workers.

                Sure, some employers lie about the reason for term. I'm quite certain that none have ever listed "physical disability" or "mental health diagnosis" or "just used FMLA" as an official reason for termination, just like they never write "fired due to race." But employees win cases all the time for discrimination.

                If they fire you, report it to the EEOC or your applicable state agency. If there is enough in your favor, you'll get a right to sue letter, then you can try to sue. Frankly, most employers tend to walk on eggshells around people who have recently taken FML because they are afraid of lawsuits.

                Comment


                • #9
                  cbg and TSCompliance:

                  Thank you both so very much for your replies. I will rest easier tonight.

                  Comment

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