The Instances When An Employee Must Discuss Health Issues With Their California Employer Are Few and Far Between
Recognizing that health information is intensely private, sensitive, and personal, California and federal laws impose strict limits on when employers can ask about or require employees to disclose health issues.
Companies in California can inquire about and request personal health information only in limited circumstances, usually when that information is directly related to the employee’s ability to perform their job responsibilities. Beyond that, however, various laws essentially prohibit employers from sticking their noses into their employees’ health.
The California Fair Employment and Housing Act
The California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) restricts employers from asking:
“any non-job-related questions of applicants or employees, either verbally or through the use of an application form, that express, directly or indirectly a limitation, specification or discrimination as to … physical disability, mental disability, medical condition … or any intent to make such a limitation, specification, or discrimination.” (Emphasis added.)
This means, in plain English, that an employer must show that a health-related question or request for examination relates to the position or job of the employee, and that the request is consistent with business necessity. If they cannot show justifiable cause for the request, the employer does not have the right to ask an employee to disclose health issues.
This restriction includes asking whether the employee has a mental or physical disability or medical condition or the severity of the disability or condition. (That said, an employer can conduct voluntary medical examinations, including medical histories, which are part of an employee health initiative program.)
The Americans With Disabilities Act and Employer Requests For Health Information
The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) is a sprawling federal law that addresses discrimination based on disabilities or health conditions, including discrimination by employers. To prevent companies from making hiring and employment decisions based on an employee’s perceived disability, the ADA prohibits them from asking questions that would require employees to disclose health issues.
That said, there are three circumstances where an employer can request personal health information or require employees to disclose health issues.
Condition That Poses a Safety Risk or Impacts The Employee’s Ability To Do Their Job
Similar to the FEHA, and according to Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) guidance, the ADA allows an employer to make a disability or health-related inquiry or request a medical exam if it is “job-related and consistent with business necessity.” According to the EEOC, that means a situation where an employer “has a reasonable belief, based on objective evidence,” that:
- an employee’s medical condition will impair or limit their ability to perform essential job functions; or
- an employee’s medical condition presents a direct threat of harm to themselves or others.
Examples of when health-related inquiries or a request for a medical examination would be allowable include when an employer:
- is aware of an employee’s medical condition or observes symptoms that indicate the employee may have a medical condition;
- observes performance issues reasonably connected to the employee’s medical condition; or
- obtains credible documentation or information from a third party that an employee has a medical condition.
Request for Reasonable Accommodation Under The FEHA
Under California’s FEHA, employers with five more full-time employees must provide “reasonable accommodation” for qualified applicants and employees with disabilities. This is a modification to the work environment or how a job is customarily performed that allows a disabled individual to apply for, perform the duties of, or have equal access to the privileges and benefits that come with the job. The accommodation must be reasonable, meaning that an employer does not have to provide a proposed or requested accommodation that would cause significant difficulty or expense to the business.
A California employer can request employees to disclose health issues and disability-related questions after an employee requests a reasonable accommodation if the disability or need for accommodation is not known or obvious.
Employers Can Ask Employees To Disclose Health Issues When an Employee Requests Medical Leave
Under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA), covered employers must provide employees with protected, unpaid leave upon request for qualifying medical or family reasons. After an employee requests leave under the FMLA, a covered employer has the legal right to ask for evidence to support the employee’s health-based request.
Such evidence could be a certification from the employee’s health care provider explaining why the employee needs the requested leave and the expected duration of the condition/leave. The employer may also require the employee’s health care provider to certify the employee is healthy enough to return to work when the leave is complete.
Preferred Insurance: Guiding Employees Through Their Group Health Insurance Benefits
As you can see, the circumstances in which California employers can request employees to disclose health issues are few and far between.
Do you have more questions about your employer-provided group health insurance policy? At Preferred Insurance, we work with California employers to obtain the best group health insurance for their business. We then focus on individual employees to ensure they get the most from their coverage. This is one of the many benefits of buying health insurance through a broker.