Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Employment law lessons from “Ted Lasso” — Let’s talk about medical confidentiality

The penultimate episode of Season 2 of Ted Lasso ended with an absolute gut-punch of a cliffhanger.

(Spoiler Alert — Turn Back Now If You're Not Caught Up)

Trent Crimm (The Independent) texts Ted to let him know the following:

  1. The morning edition of The Independent will feature a story detailing how Ted suffered a panic attack on the sidelines during the FA Cup quarterfinal match; and
  2. His anonymous source was Nate, bullied kit man turned bully of an assistant coach, and now also turned backstabber.


Recall that prior to the FA Cup semi at Wembly against Man City, Ted revealed to his staff the cause of him leaving the sideline in the quarterfinal against Tottenham … a panic attack. Nate, for reasons that we can only assume will be revealed during this week's season finale (whichI also assume involve Rupert buying a rival football club and hiring Nate to be its manager), disclosed Ted's confidential information to a reporter.

The ADA protects as confidential employee medical information obtained by an employer. This applies to all medical information regardless of how it was obtained, including by an employee's voluntary disclosure. The ADA requires that such information should be kept in a medical file separate from an employee's personnel file in a secure location that is only accessible only to authorized personnel. "Authorized personnel" usually means HR representatives, but the ADA does allow for certain exceptions, including supervisors and managers on a need-to-know basis.

The Ted/Nate scenario does not neatly fall under these rules. Ted (the manager) made the disclosure to his subordinates (his coaching staff). Nevertheless, having come into possession of protected medical information, they should have kept it confidential. The only remedy for a workplace breach of medical confidentiality is termination. If I was Ted, I'd fire Nate immediately, or at least as quickly as I could reasonably confirm the veracity of Trent Crimm's text message.

I can't wait to see how this all plays out in the finale.

One question with which to leave you — Is Ted Lasso a show about football, or a show about the workplace in which that workplace happens to be a football club. I argue it's definitely the latter. 

In fact, I just recorded a whole podcast about the key workplace and employment law issues in the show's initial 21 episodes (including the issue discussed above). I spent a chunk of my Sunday with my very good friends Marc Alifanz and Kate Bischoff recording a special Ted Lasso episode of their Hostile Work Environment Podcast. You'll find it wherever you get your podcasts. Here's a quick clip to whet your appetite.

How do you think the season finale will play out? Drop a comment below with your thoughts, or hit me up on Twitter.