Navigating sick or medical leave at your job can be a challenge. Taking time off to care for your physical or emotional health is crucial, but not all employers may approve time off requests without asking questions or investigating. The conversations you have with your physician are private and confidential. However, could your employer still make a phone call to verify if you visited that day, if you received a certain treatment, or obtain other information? Here’s what to know in this situation.
In Florida, as in all states throughout the country, the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) mandates when and why employees can take leave without fear of job retaliation. According to the FLMA, employees can take job-protected leave (unpaid) for specific health conditions, including the birth of a child, a serious health problem, or a family member with a serious health problem. If you request leave under the FMLA or other employee sick leave plan, it is not necessarily within your employer’s rights to verify your claim with your physician.
An employer calling a doctor’s office and inquiring about an employee’s health condition or treatments could violate the provisions of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) of 1996. HIPAA is a federal law that protects patient privacy in terms of health information. HIPAA restricts who can access a patient’s information and why. Most health care providers and healthcare plans must abide by the laws of HIPAA. Fortunately for employees, HIPAA typically keeps employers from accessing health information.
HIPAA’s Privacy Rule makes it so that an employer can ask you for a doctor’s note or health information for health insurance, workers’ compensation, sick leave, or other programs, but the employer cannot call a doctor or healthcare provider directly for information about you. If the employer does call your doctor, you could have a HIPAA violation claim against him or her. The only time an employer can get health information about you directly from your doctor is with your authorization. The only time an employer can go outside this rule is if there is a law giving the employer express permission to do so.
A sick leave or workers’ compensation claim in Florida can be a balancing act amongst employees, employers, physicians, and insurance companies. For an injured worker, navigating the state’s leave laws can prove a never-ending battle. One of the issues you may encounter is what might happen if your employer decides to verify the information you have by asking you for a doctor’s note. It is within your employer’s rights to ask you for a doctor’s note or other form of verification of your alleged health condition or appointment, as well as to take employment action if you cannot supply the requested information.
If you believe an employer fired you or took other adverse action against you because of your injury, illness, condition, or disability, you could have a discrimination claim. If, however, your employer took the action because you requested leave but could not provide a doctor’s note as evidence of your alleged condition, your employer might be within his or her legal rights. Note, however, that under no circumstances can an employer contact your doctor, request health information from your physician, or retaliate against you for a protected class. Talk to our Tampa employment lawyers at Florin Gray Bouzas Owens, LLC for more information about your specific case.
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