Can employers call your doctor?

Generally, yes, your employer can call your doctor; however, the questions your employer ask is limited and protected by HIPAA Privacy Law. Your employer has the right to contact your doctor to verify the authenticity of a doctor’s note but cannot ask about your medical condition or diagnosis.

Author: Brad Nakase, Attorney

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Can Employers Talk to Your Doctor?

Getting sick is a part of life. No one likes waking up to those dreaded sniffles, sore throat, and fever, especially because it means a trip to the doctor’s office for a prognosis and medicine. Worse, getting a cold or flu means missing work. When an employee informs his or her employer about their sickness, the company might request a doctor’s note as proof of the illness. But this leads to an interesting question: is it legal for an employer to ask for a doctor’s note when an employee is granted a number of personal days off in addition to sick leave?

When looking at the legality of an employer requesting a doctor’s note, or even their calling the doctor to verify the reason and details of the visit, it is necessary to consider a number of factors. Even if an employee provides a doctor’s note, an employer may still be convinced that the reason for the employee’s absence is due to deceit. It is important for an employee to know his or her legal rights regarding work absence because of sickness and how this can possibly affect their employment. Luckily for the employee, there are various privacy laws in place that serve to protect an individual’s medical data when an employer tries to verify an injury or sickness with a doctor.

What Privacy Laws Prevent an Employer from Seeing an Employee’s Medical Data?

Often, when an employee needs to take leave from work due to illness, they will have to provide a doctor’s note to prove to their employer that their absence is legitimate. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) is a federal law that is the source of national standards to protect patients’ sensitive health data. This statute keeps data from being given out without the patients’ knowledge or consent. This is why it is typical for a physician to ask a patient to verify a phone number, email address, and personal contact with whom one is comfortable sharing personal results.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) created the HIPAA Privacy Rule to put the requirements of HIPAA into practice, so that patients’ privacy would be protected. The HIPAA Security Rule is responsible for protecting certain information addressed by the Privacy Rule. This rule concerns the use of individuals’ health details. It represents the accepted idea that individuals have control over how their health information is distributed and used. The main point of the law is to make sure that an individual’s health data is safe while at the same time encouraging an open dialogue that allows information to freely move. This encourages excellent quality healthcare that protects the public’s privacy and wellbeing. That said, an individual should be aware that some entities, such as medical care providers, insurers, and others with access to confidential medical records, may have exceptions that permit them to share medical data. Also, if an employee needs workers compensation, then it may be necessary to share information about his or her health.

If an employee has learned that his or her employer requested their medical data from a doctor without the employee’s permission, then the employee may be protected under HIPAA. If this is the case, then the employee should contact an attorney for advice on how to proceed.

Personal injury, meanwhile, can occur at any time and in any place. It can take the form of car accidents, sickness, slip and falls, and others. All of these reasons would cause an individual to miss work for a certain period of time. In fact, there are many instances of ill health and sickness which can come on abruptly without any previous onset of symptoms. Because of this, employers may choose to request a doctor’s note from an employee. That said, a company should not contact an employee’s doctor directly unless it is a situation related to workers’ compensation.

In the end, an employee’s medical records are private information. Proof of an injury or illness detailed in a doctor’s note should be enough to satisfy employers. However, companies are allowed to call a medical provider without an employee’s authorization. The good news is that the law and medical officials protect an individual’s personal medical data. This means that even if a company calls an employee’s doctor, the doctor is not authorized to provide any personal information unless the employee has agreed to this.

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