In Secretary of Labor v. United States Postal Service the question was whether an employee’s indication of an industrial injury on a FMLA request form triggered an OSHA recordkeeping obligation. To make a long story short, that claimant complained she was having an allergic reaction to dust produced by machinery she worked with. Her doctor provided her a note stating she was not to return to work at that machine. She eventually filled out an FMLA leave request form.
As this was going on, her complaint and that of another employee triggered an OSHA investigation. None of the inspections or analysis generated by her physician or OSHA found any kind of violation of OSHA standards or the exact allergic substance she was reacting to. The OSHA inspector was none the less concerned the company had not recorded her allergic reaction in the OSHA injury logs, a violation for which they were cited.
The Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission overturned a decision by the lower court and ruled due to privacy provisions associated with the FMLA, the employer was required to not share this information with the OSHA coordinator or the employee’s supervisor. The only time it would be appropriate to do so is for job accommodation purposes or emergency medical treatment.
The Commission also ruled the obligation to report an OSHA injury could come from someone’s position or other unique circumstances. According to the Commission no such facts existed to generate the obligation. Which is rather surprising given it was abundantly clear she claimed to be having allergic reactions to working around the machinery and told numerous people about it.
The court reminded employers they should separate FMLA files from the work comp or injury ones.
Take home lesson: do NOT share medical information across the organization unless that person has a “need to know”, there is an accommodation to consider, or there is some kind of emergency. Keep FMLA requests private and don’t automatically share the info with the OSHA
Don Phin, Esq. is VP of Strategic Business Solutions at ThinkHR, which helps companies resolve urgent workforce issues, mitigate risk and ensure HR compliance. Phin has more than three decades of experience as an HR expert, published author and speaker, and spent 17 years in employment practices litigation. For more information, visit www.ThinkHR.com.