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LeadingEdition: E-Newsletter for Purdue University Supervisors

Sharing medical information

In our fast-paced, technologically-advanced world, it is easier than ever to share information with others. Most people are only a click away via e-mail. When someone on our staff is sick or injured and needs to be off work for a period of time, we feel we want to keep people informed of the person's progress. Frequently we use email to communicate the message. Here is an example:

To: The Department
From: Department Head

I just wanted everyone to know that Susie will be out on medical leave for the next six weeks. Any work that you would normally give to Susie can be given to Amy while Susie is laid up in the hospital and at home. Susie had been experiencing horrible pain in her abdomen, and when she had some tests run the doctor discovered that she had gall stones and needed to have her gall bladder removed. Susie had surgery yesterday. They weren't able to remove the gall bladder using laparoscopy because the gall bladder was too infected, and Susie now has a large incision on her side. Her recovery time will be a lot longer because of this. She will have to stay in the hospital for a week and then she will be at home the rest of the time. If you want to send Susie a card, I'm sure she would enjoy hearing from you.

While this department head had the best intentions, too much information was provided. If the employee who is ill or injured wants to share the reason for their absence that is fine, but as an employer we should not be providing that information. A different way to write this email might be:

Susie will be on a leave for the next six weeks. Any work that you would normally take to her can be given to Amy in her absence. Susie has indicated that she would love to hear from coworkers and friends while she is off work.

One thing that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) notes is that employers should not have diagnosis information about their employees. If employers have diagnosis information, the employee might allege that the employer used this information to discriminate against the employee in some employment decision. Or they might allege that the employer has 'regarded them as having a disability' whether or not they actually have a disability. Employees may share all the details they want to provide about their medical conditions, but as the employer, we should not provide that information to others verbally or in written or electronic form.

- Sharon Williams, Manager of Employee Relations/Senior Consultant
  Human Resource Services

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LeadingEdition is an electronic newsletter for Purdue University supervisors.  It is produced and distributed by Purdue University Human Resources four times annually.  If you have questions, comments or suggestions relating to the newsletter, please call 49-41679 or email us.  Thank you.