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Information An Employer Has A Right To Ask About Before Letting You Return To Work


If you have been out of work because of a health condition, you may have rights to privacy about your health condition when you return to work which limit what your employer can ask. However, even under the protecting law known as the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) and similar laws, the right to privacy is not absolute.

As part of the balance underlying the law, an employer is entitled to ask about facts that impact your ability to do the job.

An employer may require that you provide documentation or have a medical exam before allowing you to to return to work if the employer has a reasonable belief that you may be unable to perform your job or may pose a direct threat to yourself or others. Information the employer can ask for is limited to the information required to determine whether you are able to perform your job and to do so safely. An employer may not ask about your underlying condition or about what could happen in the future.

Example: Sandra, a newspaper reporter, who has been on leave for eight months receiving experimental treatment for non-aggressive lung cancer, notifies her employer that she will be able to return to work in two weeks but will need to continue her treatment for four more months. Because her job frequently requires her to travel nationally and internationally on short notice, the employer may ask her to provide a doctor's note or other documentation indicating whether she can travel during the next four months and, if so, how long she can be away. The employer cannot ask about her projected life expectancy.

NOTE: Even if you are not protected by the ADA, assume for practical purposes you are. This means you can decide what you do or do not want to disclose about your health condition.  If your condition could be hazardous to you or other people on the job, your employer has a right to know.

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