In recent decades, employers have become increasingly interested in their employees’ private lives. One question that comes up often is the extent to which employers can look into and use their employees’ medical information. The COVID-19 pandemic has only made these sorts of inquiries more common, so it is important that you as an employee understand your legal rights and responsibilities.
For starters, the default rule is that your employer cannot ask you about medical conditions or demand medical documentation for just any reason. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (and specifically, 42 U.S.C. § 12112(d)) your employer can ask about medical conditions (including disabilities) or ask you to undergo a medical exam only if doing so is “job-related and consistent with business necessity.” What does that mean? Generally, your employer must reasonably believe that you have a health condition that impairs your ability to do your job or that poses a direct threat of harm to others. It is entitled only to information on those things. However, this does mean that you employer can ask for a doctor’s note for things like going out on and returning from sick leave.