Medical records are confidential in many states, and very rarely can they be accessed without the written permission of the person concerned. The Americans with Disabilities Act allows anyone carrying out medical background checks to inquire only about the ability of a prospective employee to carry out the work concerned.
However, medical information in the public domain, such as that recorded in the records of court cases, can be used by employers in determining the suitability of candidates for specific types of employment. Such records could hold detailed medical information used in, for example, personal injury litigation, and no permission need be obtained to view these.
Medical background checks are sometimes carried out by employers asking employees for their permission for the disclosure of their medical records as part of a general employee background check, and if a medical examination is required as a condition of employment, are entitled to receive a copy of this.
If you intend to carry out a medical background check, you should inform the employee of this along with your offer letter. The employee should be informed that you will require authorization for release of the health record so that you can make sure that there are no health reasons why the person cannot carry out the work involved. This is a reasonable request, but you must also have policies in place for the security of the health record which must not be revealed to any third party.
Health records should not be requested unless there is reason for doing so, for example a job requiring heavy lifting might reasonably require a health check with regard to previous heart problems. If you require any specific health tests to be carried out, the employee should also be informed of this. Eye tests for commercial drivers for example, are not unreasonable, and if employees agree to take an eye test, the employer is entitled to a copy of the results.
Medical background checks must not be discriminatory, and you must be consistent in carrying them out. In other words, you cannot carry them out on selected employees and then use the results to refuse job offers if you are doing so on the basis of the checks. Additionally, if you seek the permission of candidates to have a health report, you must inform them that they have the right to see the report first, to withhold consent for the report to passed on to the employer and even to have the report altered.
The requirements are different between different states, and you should find out the requirements of your own state. Professionals in background screening will know exactly what is required with respect to medical background checks, health screening and doctors’ reports, and it sometimes simpler and safer to hire them to look after it for you.
However, if you go it alone there many minefields with respect to an employee or applicants right to confidentiality. Have a close look at the job on offer and decide if a medical background check is really necessary. If, on the basis of certain requirements of the job, it is deemed to be required then inform the person involved that this is a requirement. If there are several job applicants involved, inform them all to avoid any suggestion of discrimination. You should then send the request to the applicant’s doctor along with the written permission, requesting the specific information you need.
You should devise a means of ensuring privacy and the security of the doctor’s report. Provided all of these steps are take, your policy should meet requirements of all states, since you are acting with the full permission of the people involved. A medical background check is sometimes essential, to protect both the employer and the employee, and if you follow the correct and common-sense procedure, you should have no difficulty.
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