Can my employer tell others about my surgery?

How should I handle a clear violation of my right to privacy with the owner of my company? I shared with my boss, owner, the details of my surgery. I asked that it stay between us. I was fearful of ridicule from co-workers. At first she said yes, then later retracted saying she had to inform the other owners. Two weeks after surgery my boss’ mother (who is not one of the owners) asked how my XXXX surgery had gone. I was mortified as it was in front of other co-workers.

Posted  12-06-2013

Ann Kiernan replies:

Releasing your medical information without your consent most probably violates your privacy rights under the law of your state, as well as your federal right under the Americans with Disabilities Act to have your employment-related medical records kept confidential.  In fact, there’s a case quite similar to yours, Miller v. Motorola, 202 Ill. App. 3d 976 (1990). There, a woman who had been diagnosed with breast cancer told a supervisor about her diagnosis, and her plans for a mastectomy and reconstructive surgery. The supervisor assured the employee that the information would be kept confidential. The employee did not tell any of her co-workers about her illness or operations, but after she returned from her medical leave, a co-worker began asking her questions about her cancer and surgeries. The employee was very distressed to find out that a number of her co-workers knew the details on her medical condition and treatment, and the court held that she had a claim for damages for invasion of privacy.

I suggest that you consult a local employment law attorney for more information about your rights and how to protect them. If you do not know such a lawyer, you may want to search your state’s listings at the National Employment Lawyers Association, or to contact your local bar association for a referral. Good luck.

Information here is correct at the time it is posted. Case decisions cited here may be reversed. Please do not rely on this information without consulting an attorney first.


About the Author:

Ann Kiernan has litigated claims of wrongful discharge and discrimination before state and federal courts and administrative matters before the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights, the National Labor Relations Board and the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission, representing both employers and employees. Ms. Kiernan co-hosted The Employee Rights Forum, a weekly radio call-in show reaching up to a half-million listeners in the New York metropolitan area, and her articles on employment law have been published in many books and magazines. Both as a firm partner and as a director, Ms. Kiernan gained solid experience in management and human resources compliance. She has worked with Fair Measures since 1997.