Can your employer ask you about the circumstances of your medical leave?

UPDATED: Sep 30, 2022

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Can your employer ask you about the circumstances of your medical leave?

I am currently on medical leave due to stess leave. My doctors note says, due to

illness. Then my HR person asked me what kind of illness and later asked if I my

illness was contagious. Is this legal to ask?

Asked on May 2, 2016 under Employment Labor Law, California


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 6 years ago | Contributor

1) While they can't ask for lots of details, they can ask in general terms what the illness or condition is, to see that would be something that would be covered by their sick leave policy. So if you have a medical diagnosis of depression or a heart condition (either brought on or exacerabated by stress) which requires leave, for example, that's all they need to know--that there is a specific medical diagnosis in which a doctor recommends leave. They can't judge it or pry into the diagnosis: it would be enough that there is a diagnosis. However, they are allowed to get the specific condition or diagnosis, because they can satisfy themselves that there is *some* medical condition. "Stress" is not a medical condition and does not justify medical leave by itself; and "illness" is not specific enough to justify leave, since there are many illnesses (e.g. IBS or many forms of osteoarthritis) that do not require medical leave. So they can get more than just "illness" as an answer.
2) They can ask whether something is contagous, because they are allowed to look to protect coworkers or customers/clients.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The Answer(s) provided above are for general information only. The attorney providing the answer was not serving as the attorney for the person submitting the question or in any attorney-client relationship with such person. Laws may vary from state to state, and sometimes change. Tiny variations in the facts, or a fact not set forth in a question, often can change a legal outcome or an attorney's conclusion. Although has verified the attorney was admitted to practice law in at least one jurisdiction, he or she may not be authorized to practice law in the jurisdiction referred to in the question, nor is he or she necessarily experienced in the area of the law involved. Unlike the information in the Answer(s) above, upon which you should NOT rely, for personal advice you can rely upon we suggest you retain an attorney to represent you.

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