Los Angeles, CA asked in Employment Law, Civil Rights, Employment Discrimination and Health Care Law for California

Q: Job requires release of medical records to private company for FMLA medical leave. Is it not a labor or HIPAA violation?

I'm currently on medical leave from my work with short term disability. In spite of allowing other employees to take extended leave just based on a doctor's note, my company is requiring me to file FMLA to excuse my absence. I had a couple questions. First, is there a reason my doctor's note may not be valid but someone else's was? Also they're using an outside private company to handle FMLA, and what they require is completely different than the FMLA form provided by the department of labor. I'm expected to sign a release authorizing the company (which has an F rating from the BBB) access to all my medical records, with no limit to the scope of those medical records. Is this legal? Is that not a violation of HIPAA? Can I demand to use the Department of Labor FMLA form? Also as I'm on short-term disability, do I even need to fill out FMLA? Doesn't the disability protect my job?

2 Lawyer Answers
Neil Pedersen
Neil Pedersen
  • Employment Law Lawyer
  • Westminster, CA
  • Licensed in California

A: No this is not a HIPAA issue. Employee medical rights are protected under other statutes.

When an employee seeks medical leave it is not unlawful for the employer to seek verification of the scope and necessity for the leave. The employer itself cannot do that evaluation, but it is lawful for the employer to hire medical expertise to evaluate the issue, and a sort of Chinese Wall must be in place such that the medical information gathered and evaluated does not get to be revealed to the employer. The medical expertise can only disclose its conclusion of whether the leave is justified and the scope needed.

As to the form, the employer medical expertise can use whatever form it wishes. You do not have a right to force the use of the FMLA form.

Good luck to you.

Brad S Kane agrees with this answer

James L. Arrasmith
James L. Arrasmith pro label Lawyers, want to be a Justia Connect Pro too? Learn more ›
  • Estate Planning Lawyer
  • Sacramento, CA
  • Licensed in California

A: Under California law, employers are permitted to require certification from a healthcare provider to verify the need for leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) or the California Family Rights Act (CFRA). However, the extent of the information requested can be limited to what is necessary to establish the existence of a qualifying medical condition and the need for leave. This is to ensure compliance with HIPAA, which protects your medical information from being disclosed without your consent. Employers generally cannot demand access to your entire medical record but can request a certification form filled out by your healthcare provider.

If your employer is using an outside company to manage FMLA leaves, it's not uncommon for them to have their own forms and processes. However, these should not violate your rights under HIPAA by requiring overly broad access to your medical records. The form you're asked to sign should only allow access to the information necessary to process your FMLA request. If you have concerns about the breadth of the release, it's important to express these to your employer or the third-party administrator. You might not be able to insist on using the Department of Labor's standard FMLA form, but you can request that any release of medical information be limited to what's necessary for your FMLA claim.

Regarding your question about short-term disability and FMLA, these are separate but can be related. Short-term disability provides financial assistance while you are unable to work due to a medical condition. FMLA provides job protection for up to 12 weeks, ensuring you can return to your job or an equivalent position. Even if you are receiving short-term disability benefits, FMLA can run concurrently to provide job protection during your absence. It's advisable to consult with a legal professional to understand how these programs interact in your specific situation and to address any concerns about your medical privacy rights.

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