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Oct 2001
01
October 01, 2001

Employers Who Seek Medical Information for Emergency Planning Purposes Will Not Violate Federal Law, Says the EEOC

In the wake of the September 11 attacks, many employers are either instituting Emergency Response Plans or are reexamining existing policies. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has announced that, as part of such preparedness efforts, employers may ask for medical information regarding a worker's potential need for assistance in the event of an emergency evacuation. The EEOC advised that such inquiries would not violate either the Americans with Disabilities Act or the Rehabilitation Act. The EEOC further identified three methods for obtaining medical information from employees for emergency evacuation purposes. Specifically, an employer may:

  • Make post-offer, preemployment inquiries regarding whether the applicant will need assistance during an emergency and, if so, what type of help will be required;

     
  • Periodically survey all workers but only if the purpose of the inquiry is explained and workers are advised that self-identification is voluntary; and/or

     
  • Ask workers with known disabilities whether they will need help in case of an emergency.

The focus of any such request should be on the need for and type of assistance, not on an employee's medical condition. In most cases, the employer will not need details about a worker's condition, just the impact of that condition in emergency situations. Employers also should not make any assumptions about whether workers will need assistance, even for workers with obvious disabilities.

Employers must keep in mind their general obligation to keep medical information confidential and make sure that any such information is provided only to those permitted under relevant exceptions to receive it (e.g., first aid and safety personnel who are responsible for medical care or for safe evacuations in an emergency). Moreover, this issue may be treated differently under Michigan law, although state courts and agencies frequently look to federal decisions and rules for guidance.
 

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