People trust their GPs and hospitals to keep their medical histories private. Not all workers will be aware that less detailed versions of this data also often form part of their permanent records in the workplace. Where this is the case, employers have the same duty of care as healthcare workers to ensure that the details are kept private.
This article covers various types of information that could be stored about workers’ health and offers advice about how it these categories should be handled.
An organisation may keep a separate log of any accidents or injuries occurring at work and requiring first aid. The injured worker’s name typically forms part of the entry in the log, but minor accidents are not usually duplicated in the employee’s permanent record.
Such logs do not generally pose a privacy concern to employees, although they are entitled to inspect and correct any entries applying to them should they so wish.
Employees may choose to disclose to their employer a history of mental health problems. It may be appropriate for this information to be stored, particularly if the employer must make reasonable adjustments to accommodate them (for example, if they are on medication that makes them drowsy at certain times of day). Employers must be careful not to discriminate against people with special needs, and has a duty to keep private any such issues that have been divulged.
Employees should expect that their attendance history forms part of their permanent record. Extended absences due to illness, such as a bad back, are also likely to be documented.
Maternity or paternity leave is an even more common reason for employees to take several months off at a time. Again, these will be noted in the archives. There is less of a privacy concern about these absences because employees will probably have told their co-workers anyway and will be delighted to share the news.
Employee Exposure Records
People who work with harmful substances – such as certain types of engineers, technicians and scientists – may be regularly tested to check that they have not been exposed. The Health and Safety at Work Act mandates testing where it is necessary to ensure safety. The results of such tests should form part of their documentation, and employees have a right to access this data should they wish.
Testing of employees for intoxicating substances may be considered to be medical information. The results of such tests should be treated confidentially, regardless of whether they are positive or negative. Of course, if an employee is dismissed on grounds of substance abuse then it may prove difficult to keep the reason for their departure a secret.
Controlling Access to Medical Information
It may be appropriate for human resources departments to store medical information separately from other details, and to place greater restrictions on who can gain access to it. They must also take care to limit their paperwork to what is necessary to the business; otherwise, it may be seen as an invasion of privacy.
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@Taffy - I think if it may affect your driving than yes, your employer is not really invading your privacy here but making sure that you are safely allowed to drive as it may impact on them should something untoward happen. I'd give Acas a call in order to make sure though. Chris.
Chris - 4-Mar-15 @ 2:05 PM
Hi - I am waiting for an appointment to discuss a knee replacement.I have made my employer aware of this and have told them at this stage I do not know how long I may need off work.My job ismostly desk work but a drive of 27 miles each way to get to the office, also attendance at trade shows quite a number of weekends through the summer.I was asked today to submit an email outlining what I know up till now - i.e. the doctor as given me no contraindications on what tasks I should or should not do - life is normal and I have no problem doing my job.My HR person has asked me to list the prescription tablets I am taking - she said she may need to let the company insurance know as I have a company car.Do I have to tell her what meds I am on?