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Off the Records

When it comes to what's in your employees' medical records, keep your questions to yourself. The less you know, the better.

By Steven C. Bahls

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

When was the last time someone told you something was "noneof your business"? That's the law's position onemployees' medical conditions. If you ask for details-ordisclose them-you may expose yourself to lawsuits under theAmericans With Disabilities Act (ADA) or common-lawinvasion-of-privacy claims.

Consider a recent case at Minnesota Power & Light. A workerinjured her back in a fall while moonlighting at a restaurant,causing a 10.5 percent disability. When the employee later sought atransfer to another department, the power company had her evaluatedto see if she could meet the physical demands of the new position.When the clinic determined the woman could only lift 20 to 35pounds, the supervisor of the new department, without gettingpermission from the woman, told subordinates of her back injury,lifting restrictions, and the fact that a former supervisorsuspected cognitive deficiencies (which tests had not confirmed).The woman's co-workers treated her patronizingly. Worse, whenthe supervisor learned that the woman had applied for aletter-carrier job, he informed the U.S. Postal Service about herback injury and lifting restrictions, which led to her not beinghired. All this led to a bout of depression, psychotherapy andmedication.

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