Privacy and LTD–What is my Employer Entitled to Know About My Health?

If you have long-term disability coverage through your employee benefits, then you may be wondering about what your privacy rights are when it comes to your health and medical condition.

When you are off of work on LTD, you do not need to keep in touch with your employer or keep them up to date with what’s happening with your health. Because colleague relationships often extend into our personal lives, sometimes people do want to keep in touch–but you are not required to. On the other hand, you may feel strongly that you do not want your workplace to know the details of your illness or disability for any number of reasons–that could be the nature of your condition, the desire to prevent gossip, or the fear that it could be used against you.

The bottom line is that you do not need to share the details of your symptoms, diagnosis, treatments, medications or other health information with anyone at your workplace.

That changes a bit when you are getting ready to return to work, when your employer may need to know some information in order to prepare accommodations. Because they have a duty to accommodate your needs, it’s reasonable that they may need to know certain things about your condition to create a plan for your safe return to work.

But even then, your employer really only needs to know how your condition affects your ability to do your job, how long your condition is expected to last (if known), and, if a different job will be required, what your capabilities are.

Health information that you disclose to your employer (whether that’s your manager, HR, or anyone else at your workplace) must be kept strictly confidential, and only requested of you on a need-to-know basis.

If your employer needs more information from your healthcare provider(s) in order to make informed decisions about accommodations, they must obtain your permission to seek that information. As part of the return-to-work process, your insurer can also communicate high-level information about your capabilities to your employer.

You have a right to know what workplace policies are in place to ensure confidentiality. Your insurance policy may have other provisions related to permission to share your health information, so it’s a good idea to review that as well.