Employment Law: Privacy Violation in the Workplace

By Peter Levine posted in Employment Law on August 22nd, 2013

Personal Information on the Workplace Bulletin Board

Many of the basic rights we all take for granted are not protected when we go to work. Whenever a question arises about an employee’s right to privacy in the workplace it is critical to identify the employee rights that may be at stake. Because there are various workplace environments, each claim of privacy violation needs to be evaluated according to the actual and specific conditions of the workplace.

Such is the debate that is facing one such McDonald’s employee’s attorney.

A San Antonio McDonald’s employee, who is only being identified as “Anna,” was outraged to find her personal medical information had been posted to a workplace bulletin board in the back office of her store.

Anna told a local television station that she suffers from depression, anxiety, liver, and lung problems, and had received a doctor’s note authenticating her illnesses so that she could take a few hours off. Anna alleges that after handing the note over to her manager, the manager then proceeded to put the note up on the public employee bulletin board.

A Clear Violation of Her Privacy in the Workplace

“It just made me want to cry,” Anna said. “I didn’t want anyone to know … I really felt that they stepped into my personal space to basically let anybody know that I needed medical treatments.” Anna claims her manager’s actions were in clear violation of both her privacy and federal health laws.

Anna has consulted with an attorney and has filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Justine Lisser, a spokeswoman for the EEOC, did not comment specifically on Anna’s case. She did, however, say it’s possible that Anna could be referring to the Americans with Disabilities Act. This Act protects employees or job applicants from unfavorable treatment due to disability. It also has a “very strong confidentiality provision,” Lisser said.

It’s also possible that Anna could be invoking the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act. This Act, among other things, prohibits employers from considering an individual’s genetic information when making decisions around hiring, firing, job placement or promotion.

At this point it is unclear if Anna’s employer did so.

Lisser noted that a large number of complaints received by the EEOC involve disabilities that are psychiatric in nature, including depression. In 2012, 402 charges with favorable outcomes or meritorious allegations involved depression, accounting for nearly 7 percent of all disability charges that year.

“Certainly, there is a stigma against some psychiatric illnesses that may not be present for other things,” Lisser said.
San Antonio McDonald’s Operator Celia Jairala declined discussing further details, but offered this statement: “McDonald’s has the utmost respect for our employees and their privacy.”

An employee’s rights can be violated in any number of ways. In this particular case, “Anna” took the best course of action. She consulted an attorney and filed a complaint with the appropriate government agency with employee and workplace rights.

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