Medical Privacy: General: Can we ask employees to provide the name of their doctor and a list of medications on our emergency contact form?

May 11, 2012
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For the general employee population, the employer is wise to limit the request for emergency contact information to a name and telephone number of a personal contact and the employee's doctor's name and telephone number. The provision of the employee's doctor's name should be voluntary. If an employee does not wish to provide the name and number of his or her doctor, the employer should respect that desire and indicate that on the emergency contact form.

Requesting or requiring an employee to provide a list of medications taken without reason of a safety or business necessity would be a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act’s prohibition on health inquiries. Such an inquiry could result in a charge of disability discrimination. The employer's emergency contact information policy should assure employees that emergency contact information will be kept confidential and shared and used on a strict need-to-know basis only.

If you have employees with disabilities who may need assistance in the event of a workplace evacuation, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's Fact Sheet on Obtaining & Using Employee Medical Information as Part of Emergency Evacuation Procedures will interest you. The fact sheet provides recommendations for how to identify these employees, what specific information may be requested, and how that information may be shared and used.

Employers may suggest, though not require, employees to participate in a medical alert jewelry program and/or notification service. Medical alert jewelry programs provide participants with an engraved piece of jewelry, usually a bracelet, that contains certain medical information about the participant. Some services provide a phone number and/or web site that gives access to participant’s medical information to certified emergency responders only. Employers may even consider offering this type of program as a unique employee benefit. A directory of those vendors may be found here.

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