Can secretary blab about my medical information?

I asked for, and received, approval for two weeks’ vacation so I could have plastic surgery, although I did not disclose the reason for the surgery to my boss. My surgeon called to confirm my appointment. His secretary recognized his [the doctor’s] name and not only asked me what kind of work I was having done (which I did not tell her) and then told other people at work about the reason I wanted vacation. Can she do that, and is there anything legal I can do about it?

Posted  03-03-2013

Steve Duggan replies:

No, she cannot do that. Any medical procedure is a matter of complete privacy. Since she gained her information about the reason for your vacation as part of her job, she was required to keep it to herself. I would recommend that you remind her of her obligation in a tactful way, for the future. If still dissatisfied, you may choose to bring the violation of your right to privacy to your manager’s or to HR’s attention. Pursuing a civil claim seems unlikely, as court costs and attorney fees would likely far exceed any possible monetary recovery. However, you should always try to consult an attorney in your area to further assess your possible claims and likelihood of recovery if you are interested in pursuing such a claim.

Unless you have collective bargaining rights as part of a union or a specific contract for a period of time, you are likely an employee at will. In such a case, Employers can impose new conditions of employment, so long as they are not violating the law in some way. The job description you had when you were hired would not limit the employer’s right in this regard. And, I can’t see how this would be a violation of any laws I am familiar with.


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:

Steve Duggan graduated from the Law School at the University of Notre Dame while on active duty in the Air Force. He has extensive experience representing management litigating cases of wrongful termination, employment discrimination, and sexual harassment. Steve also has experience in all phases of administrative litigation of unfair labor practice charges, and class and individual complaints of employment discrimination. He has been an instructor of seminars for supervisors and managers on labor management relations and other personnel issues, and for lawyers in basic and advanced trial advocacy courses. Steve came on board with Fair Measures in 1998.