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Health Issues and Confidentiality

By: Kevin Watson MSc - Updated: 13 Mar 2018 | comments*Discuss
Confidentiality Health Data Protection

Confidentiality at work is a sensitive issue and this is particularly true in relation to health. In this context, confidentiality is about respecting the right to a worker's privacy. This right applies when someone discusses a health problem with another person at work.

This definition is deliberately broad. Confidentiality about health issues doesn’t just refer to conversations between a worker and employer. It covers any personal health-related conversation in the workplace.

Data Protection Act

The Data Protection Act 1998 includes health issues and confidentiality in its remit. Under the terms of the Act, health data is “sensitive personal data”. Such data relates to physical and mental health issues. Sensitive personal data may be electronic information in a computer. It can also be manual information in a filing system.

Storing Health Data at Work

Placing such data in a computer or file is legal if medical purposes require it. The person who processes the data must be a healthcare professional or someone who has a similar duty of confidentiality. Storing medical data at work is also legal if a worker gives an employer permission to do so.

Worker's Obligation

There is no obligation, however, for a worker to give medical details to an employer. In practice, many workers will give this information out of courtesy and to fully explain any absences from work. If they do so, they have a right to expect that the employer will not divulge the details to anyone.

Reasonable Request

On occasion, an employer may insist on receiving full medical details from a worker. Under some circumstances, this is reasonable. The health and safety requirements of a workplace may be such that there are legitimate risks if an employer is not aware of workers’ medical backgrounds.

Report Ill Health

If there are no such risks, a worker may choose not to give his or her full medical details to an employer. Even so, a worker must report ill health. A worker has an obligation to perform a job. If something affects this performance, an employer has a right to know that poor health is the cause.

A worker should therefore explain to an employer how a condition affects his or her work. A worker should also say when he or she hopes to be back to full fitness. There is no need to mention the nature of the condition.

Occupational Health Professionals

An employer may ask an occupational health (OH) professional to speak to a worker who is ill. The duty of confidentiality that applies to a doctor or nurse also applies to an occupational health professional. This means that a worker can speak to an OH professional in the knowledge that an employer will not learn the nature of an illness.

An OH professional does, of course, report back to an employer. Such a report should give details about a worker’s ability to function. It should say whether or not a worker’s state of health will improve and when. An OH report should not have any medical details unless a worker agrees in writing.

An OH professional may keep an additional record that gives full details about a worker’s health. An employer does not have an automatic right to gain access to this. A worker must first give his or her written agreement. On the other hand, a worker has a right to see such a record at any time.

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Have to complete a medical questionnaire for my employment. This form goes through a (there's a few!) Manager's hands before being sent to HR, line managers are emailed for further medical probing, not the actual employee. If an Admin at HR thinks there's something that's a medical concern, they'll decide to forward it to oh for further input. That's my health data, being viewed by a manager, HR department and not likely to be seen by oh unless a non medical person in HR deems it necessary. I refused to put details on my questionnaire and stated "confidential" in parts. Is it just me that thinks this breaches confidentiality... going through all these hands?
Yt03 - 13-Mar-18 @ 12:03 AM
Hello. I have resigned from my job due to HR officer making false allegations against me. Was off work with work related stress due to this. HR officer also discussed highly confidential information on other employees to other staff not involved in HRincluding details about DBS checks. I am registered disabled of which HR officer accused my assistance dog of biting him of which no one saw. I put in a grievance against him only to lie and deny my grievance ending up making me look like the bad guy. My CEO was unsupportive. Only been with company 18 months. Can I take this further in way of constructive dismissal?
Oneheart - 2-Jan-18 @ 7:46 PM
Hi I informed my manager I have been advised to take time of work by the doctor due to depression she then discussed this with my work colleagues and made unnecessary comments about how many children I had assuming because I had 4 children that was the cause of my depression which is ridiculous! is this breach of confidentiality I did not want everyone knowing why I was off work.
Mford - 23-Nov-17 @ 10:08 AM
Hi. I have returned to work and found out my line manager gave her line manager a copy of my occ health report without consulting me first. What can i do? I am upset by this and would not know why she would need to see this. Her resonse was because she is my line manager i have to give her a copy...? Advice please.
Backpack - 22-Nov-17 @ 2:18 PM
HR sent me for an OT assessment . The contents of the letter were sent to a manager in HR, addressed as private and confidential. I was then called in for a meeting with HR and my line manager. My line manager had a copy of the letter and could see my medical diagnosis. Is this allowed ? Regards
Blondeebob - 10-Nov-17 @ 10:32 AM
My employer has contacted my work colleague to ask if they think I have any mental health issues.The work colleague has left the job and shared it with me before she left.is this illegal.
pawlu - 24-Sep-17 @ 8:00 PM
Offastreet - Your Question:
I have been given a list of names.dates of people that have been off and why they have been off. should I have this.as I feel I should not.as it is a breach of confidentiality

Our Response:
You would need to speak to your line manager regarding this matter.
WorkingRights - 10-Jul-17 @ 9:45 AM
I have been given a list of names . .dates of people that have been off and why they have been off .. should I have this ..as I feel I should not .as it is a breach of confidentiality
Offastreet - 9-Jul-17 @ 12:49 AM
I had a close relation pass away and I informed my manager of this. the manager then sent an email to my bosses advising them I was off because of a family bereavement. When I came back I was very upset and didn't want people to know the reason I was off. Surely this is a breach of confidentiality? A personal reason could have been stated instead of news of someone dying. Please can someone tell me if the details of my absence should have been kept completely confidential? Thank you
homebird - 27-Jan-17 @ 5:22 PM
i am a self employed taxi escort. When applying for my badge to be renewed I was asked to print a copy of a form that someone at the local authorityhad typed asking me to give it to my doctor to sign to confirm Iwas fit to work as a taxi escort with children with special needs. Part of the accompanying e mail was visiblewith the words "NOW THAT SHE HAS TURNED SEVENTY" My doctor refused to sign . it was not a standard form. No contact details. No Date or reference number and was sent by Email to the operator who passed it on to me by email . I told him my Doctor refuses to sign and was told I would not get my badge renewed. I have a disability which they already know about . It has never interfered with my work which Ihave done for about six years. can they do this.
Su - 2-Apr-16 @ 8:47 AM
I have been out sick for several months and decided to move on. I got an offer, but today they called me and said that they had spoken to someone at my current job who told them I had been out of the office and for how long. Is this allowed? I didn't give my permission for her to contact my current job. I did mention I had been out sick before my offer, but we didn't discuss dates.
Loulou - 3-Mar-16 @ 2:13 PM
Hi m magda I inform my employer about TB screening that I was going through. Now I heard ppl talking about it saying theywanna screen everybody I work with. I feel my rights were violated disclosing my health issues to people without my concern. Where is confidentiality.
Mama - 23-Nov-15 @ 7:03 PM
@DDDL - the hospital would allocate a ward to a person in its care, your employer would have no say in the matter. An employer has the right to check if someone is in hospital and usually an employer also may want to wish the employer well by sending a card or visiting.
Izzy - 29-Apr-15 @ 11:06 AM
Would like to know if the Employer has got the right to what ward that the person is on in hospital? And have got the right to check up on someone who is in Hospital?
DDDL - 26-Apr-15 @ 5:17 PM
@jay - you would need to contact Acas really regarding this, you can do so via the link here. I hope this helps.
WorkingRights - 2-Apr-15 @ 12:05 PM
I have been off work this year five times, four of theses have been work related injuries. In one of the these cases the employer said it was there fault, when I returned to work after injuring my spine In the T4 to T8section, I was given a warning for my absence, I was suppose to be put on light duties but never was, and my back went again. The company I work for paid for my treatment through there insurance company, then I returned to work and was given a writen warning. The company claimed liability , they pay for my treatment, i had unpaid time off due to sickness SSP which is not worth a light but it's not th money I am concernedabout itsthe warnings.
jay - 31-Mar-15 @ 3:44 PM
I work for a large company the dentist I work for has contacted hr to confirm my contracted hours with out my permission is this a breach of confidentiallythey said they contacted hr as I had been vague about my hours thank you .
Westie - 14-Aug-14 @ 9:06 PM
My employer this year has set up software where we have to electronically request annual leave which isn’t the issue, they also display on this new software webpage when you are off sick or at dentist or attending a hospital appointment, my concern is that all this data can be accessed by other employees, is this legal? As I said other work colleagues knowing when you’re on annual leave is not a problem but knowing when you’re off for a medical reason concerns me!! Any feedback would be most welcome, constructive of course!!
tenbobblind - 12-Jan-12 @ 2:17 PM
I would like to ask, at the company I work for which is DHL Logistics, we have a search policy in place were people are randomly searched. However the company has now introduced a search policy where people are are body scanned and this has changed things to the search to be a 100% search across the company on days afters and nights. Now the company are doing this on the say so of B&Q who are our customers the question is is this a change of my conditions?
BONE - 9-Aug-11 @ 1:39 AM
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