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EEOC sues employer for demanding health care details for worker absences


The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has filed suit against a Pennsylvania construction equipment supplier, charging that it violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by improperly demanding disability-related information from its workers and subjecting them to progressive disciplinary measures if they refused to comply.

The EEOC said in litigation filed in U.S. District Court in Erie, Pennsylvania, on July 21 that since at least 2004, Erie-based Erie Strayer Co. had an ongoing policy of requiring that all employees who are absent from work “for any period of time” fill out an “authorization for disclosure of health information” that authorized the company to obtain from the employee's health care provider a certification that states, among other information, the “nature of the illness or injury” and the “physical limitations, if any.”

The litigation says the company imposed progressive disciplinary action for absenteeism, up to and including discharge, if an employee failed to provide the form or if his medical provider did not provide the required medical information.

It says the company created the policy “for the express purpose of identifying whether these employees are disabled within the meaning of the ADA.”

“Requiring employees to reveal the specific nature of their medical illness in order to have necessary sick leave count as an excused absence is an unlawful disability-related inquiry under the ADA and not justified by business necessity,” regional attorney Debra Lawrence of the EEOC's Philadelphia District Office said Friday in a statement. “Employees should not have to worry that this very sensitive, private and potentially harmful information will be used by the employer against them to unfairly exclude them from jobs that they could otherwise perform.”

A company spokesman could not immediately be reached for comment.