Can an Employer Ask What Your Medical Condition Is – Overview
Employees with medical conditions are not usually the top choice of employers. The fear of how the medical condition will affect an employee’s ability to work or the cost of reasonable adjustments is complicated and daunting for most employers.
So, understandably, employers would want to know if you have any medical conditions beforehand. However, it can be quite confronting and discomforting for employees with a medical condition to disclose such private information.
Generally, medical conditions are termed as protected characteristics and employers are not allowed to discriminate against an employee for their medical problems. Employers must understand what is expected of them to avoid breaking labor or corporate laws.
Though it is essential to abide by the law, some medical conditions are difficult topics to broach. Hence, employers need to be sensitive to the needs of such employees, over and beyond the legal requirements.
What Can an Employer Ask About an Employee’s Medical Condition?
Employers can ask questions that help them decide if they need to make any special considerations. For instance, this may involve:
- Creating an adaptable work environment
- Ensuring flexibility in the work day (more frequent breaks or remote-working options)
- Additional resources to help employees perform their jobs well
Such questions are usually asked for monitoring purposes and may include questions relating to recent absences and how the employee is adjusting to the current work arrangements.
An employer can ask about a medical condition if it is deemed that the conditions may affect the employee’s ability to perform their responsibilities.
What Can’t an Employer Ask About Your Medical Condition?
An employer cannot ask a medical professional for any employee’s medical records, including information about an employee’s health, without the employee’s express permission. Even then, the employee has the right to check and approve the medical records before they are passed on to the employer.
Employers are prohibited from requesting employees disclose personal information about any health problems that arise during their employment. On the other hand, employees may choose to volunteer to disclose health information. In this case, the employer must make reasonable adjustments to support the employee’s will and ability to work.
Can an Employer Ask About Your Medical Condition During Recruitment?
No, an employer cannot ask about your medical condition during recruitment. Though the recruitment stage is ideal for knowing everything about a new employee, this is not acceptable under recruitment regulations. Additionally, employers are not allowed to ask questions about the number of sick days taken at the candidate’s previous place of employment.
However, there are exceptions to this rule. For instance, an employer can ask questions about an employee’s ability to be assessed and highlight any adjustments the candidate may require for a fair assessment. Exceptions are also granted for questions to determine if a candidate can do essential job parts.
What Protects the Privacy of an Employee?
The Equality Act 2010 protects against discrimination in the workplace and ensures that disabled persons and those with medical conditions are treated fairly at work.
The employee is protected by law in regard to questions about their medical conditions. However, the employer can ask questions about an employee’s medical conditions if they can demonstrate a valid reason for asking the question.
Suppose an employee feels that they were asked questions relating to their medical conditions for discriminatory purposes or as an invasion of privacy. In that case, the employee can even seek legal action against the employer.
Hence, employers need to take extra care and only ask questions they can justify if the need arises. On the other hand, employees should be extra careful to answer only questions they feel comfortable with. Often, people can accidentally volunteer more information than needed.
Who Should an Employee Talk to About Their Medical Condition?
Though discussing a medical problem with an employer may sound awkward, it is highly recommended to let them know of anything they directly need to know. There could be different reasons why an employee may want to disclose or discuss their medical conditions with their employees, such as:
- Need for reasonable adjustments to perform the job responsibilities well.
- Symptoms or conditions may require help, such as seizures, allergies, etc.
- Any regular stressor that may trigger your medical condition.
- Need for emotional support from someone frequently.
Regardless of why you want to share your health details at work, it can take time to decide who you can talk to. According to experts, the best people for an employee to speak to about their medical conditions are:
- Direct managers
- Occupational health advisors
- Trade unions
- HR managers
In many cases, it may be beneficial for an employee to voluntarily share details of their medical condition with their employer.
Reports have shown that around 30% of employees feel awkward or scared to share information about their medical condition with employers, mostly due to a fear of discrimination and even job loss.
So, it is especially important for employers to follow the law. It is also essential that any medical condition should be stored in a securely locked place where a non-authorized person, including employers, cannot access it. Employers also have the right to ask for proof of medical certificates of the medical condition, including fitness notes if necessary.
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