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Disclosing Your Health Condition To Your Employer

If I Choose Not To Disclose, How Can I Handle Workplace Issues?

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If you decide that you would rather not disclose your diagnosis to your employer, consider the following tips for handling various workplace issues:

Communication With Your Health Care Team (or others abouthealth issues)

Any e-mail sent through your employer's computer network can be read by your employer - including messages in your work e-mail account and in your personal e-mail accounts if you use your employer's network to send or receive them. This includes messages on your own personal laptop, tablet computer or smartphone.  

Employers also have a right to read text and e-mail messages sent from company-owned cell phones, smart phones and laptops, even if those messages are sent through personal e-mail accounts from outside the work place.  

If you must send a private e mail or text form the work place, try to use your own mobile computer or cell phone. If the device can operate over both Wi-Fi and a cellular network, confirm that it is accessing the cellular network rather than the workplace Wi-Fi.  If you must use a company cell phone to send a private message, call the person instead of texting or e-mailing.

Also watch your online activity. Employers can monitor your internet use when you are in the office.

Health Insurance

If you need more detailed information about what your group health insurance does or does not cover, consider contacting the insurance company directly. You do not have to provide your name for this type of inquiry, only your group number and/or plan information. This should allow you to find out additional information without disclosing your name.

There are some companies, however, that will refuse to talk to you without your Social Security number. If that is the case, you may try to reach a supervisor at the insurance company. Explain that you have a general question but it concerns a medical issue you're not yet comfortable talking about.

  • Stress that you just want general information and that you understand they can't guarantee whatever they tell you since they don't know the entire situation.
  • Keep detailed notes of any conversation that you have and be sure to note the name and title of the person with whom you speak.
  • Be aware that if you rely on information you receive this way, and a claim is denied, your only argument will be that you had an anonymous conversation with someone at the insurance company. It is always best to confirm information about insurance benefits in writing.

Ask if the information you are inquiring about can be faxed to you, or if it can be found in the benefits handbook or summary plan description.

  • If the information will be faxed, use a friend's fax machine or a commercial center such as FEDEX Kinkos.
  • If you need to obtain a copy of the handbook or description of benefits, don't give your mailing information or you'll disclose your identity. Ask for the documentation in a separate phone call from some one else's phone when there is no connection between your question and your request for the document. Mail can be addressed to a trusted friend.

If you are unable to obtain the information you need in this manner, and if your employer has an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), perhaps one of the people in the EAP can obtain this information for you without disclosing your identity.

Reasonable Accommodation

You can legally ask for an accommodation at work to help you do your job without giving a reason. However, there are few employers who would consider changing the way they do business without a reason. 

Making up a reason doesn't work. If you lie, you can be fired for lying.

You may request a reasonable accommodation from your employer by indicating only that you are a person with a disability, as defined by the Americans With Disabilities Act, without disclosing your actual diagnosis. 

  • It would likely be very helpful in this scenario to ask your doctor to write a letter detailing your need for an accommodation or indicating any functional limitations you may have. You can ask that your doctor keep this correspondence general, without divulging your specific diagnosis. For example, your doctor may indicate "Anne suffers from fatigue due to a chronic illness, and thus needs to be able to take her lunch break at a regularly scheduled time." This may provide your employer with enough information for granting an accommodation.
  • If your employer wants more information, it has a right to request additional information about your "disability" that you must provide if asked. By making the request, your employer triggers the legal obligation to maintain the information confidentially. In this instance, it is advisable to note in your work journal that the employer specifically requested additional information.

For additional information on this topic, see: Requesting An Accommodation.

Leave of Absence

Similar to requesting an accommodation, you may request a leave of absence by providing your employer only with general information indicating that you suffer from a medical condition, without disclosing the exact diagnosis. As with the request for an accommodation, your doctor should be consulted about providing a letter for your employer. Again, your employer has the right to request additional information.

Disability Income

If you are filing for short or long term disability, you can arrange to have your doctor communicate directly with your employer's insurance carrier regarding your diagnosis. Ask your doctor to specifically request that the disability carrier not discuss any specific medical information with your employer.

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