In order to stay in good health, many Americans take prescription medications. People often have to take these medications during the course of employment. This raises questions about whether an employer can ask employees about medications they take and whether the employees must disclose prescription drug use to the employer.
Typically, you do not have to disclose any prescription medications you are taking. Your right not to disclose is protected under the Americans With Disabilities Act. The rationale is that, by asking about prescription drugs you might take, the employer can find out about any disabilities you have and use the information to discriminate against you. Employers who force you to disclose are in clear violation of the law; you can report these violations to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
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Employers have some ability to ask about your medications if the medications directly affect your job performance. However, if an employer asks you about any medications you take, the employer is obligated to keep your prescription information confidential, just as he must for any other medical data. The employer cannot discriminate against you on the job based on the fact you're taking something for a legitimate medical purpose.
A major benefit to disclosing medications you take is that your employer can be a second pair of eyes for your health. For instance, if you must take insulin for diabetes, your employer will know what to do should your blood sugar go awry. You might disclose the prescription to your coworkers, too, so they also can look out for you. Your employer also might be able to make allowances for you if performance varies as prescriptions are adjusted. Furthermore, you have a legitimate explanation should any drug tests come back positive.
When you disclose your medication information, you have to trust your employer to keep that information secure. You have no guarantee the employer will do that, although most employers take significant measures to protect their employees' privacy. Even though employers can't discriminate outright, your boss still may treat you differently than before you disclosed the prescription information.
Wanda Thibodeaux is a freelance writer and editor based in Eagan, Minn. She has been published in both print and Web publications and has written on everything from fly fishing to parenting. She currently works through her business website, Takingdictation.com, which functions globally and welcomes new clients.