Monday, June 24, 2013

Employee medical information and social media

Hopefully, you know that the ADA protects employee medical information as confidential. According to the EEOC:

The basic rule is that with limited exceptions, employers must keep confidential any medical information they learn about an applicant or employee. Information can be confidential even if it contains no medical diagnosis or treatment course and even if it is not generated by a health care professional. For example, an employee’s request for a reasonable accommodation would be considered medical information subject to the ADA’s confidentiality requirements.

What happens, however, when an employee suffers an on-the-job injury and a supervisor shares information about the injury on a Facebook wall or Twitter page? Or, what about when a supervisor posts about a co-workers illness? I can be as innocuous as, “I hope John Smith has a quick recovery from cancer,” or spiteful, like, “I can’t believe John Smith has cancer and I have his workload while he’s out on medical leave.” Regardless, these examples potentially implicate the ADA’s confidentiality provisions.

What can a company do to guard against this type of ADA violation? Businesses should build confidentiality protections into their social media policies. Just as companies should be reminding employees that employee medical information is confidential and should only be disseminated on a need-to-know basis, so should they carry over those protections to their social media policies.

Social media is informal and instantaneous. Employees often post before they think about the implications of what they are posting. I can almost guarantee that a violation of the ADA’s confidentiality protections is the furthest from a manager’s or supervisor’s mind when posting about a co-worker’s injury or medical issue. A policy statement—and, more importantly, some training—on this issue could save you a headache in a disability discrimination lawsuit down the road.