my office is requiring us to disclose all medications we take

A reader writes:

I work for a small office (around 20 people) with a director who has a tendency towards micromanagement and distrust of employees — think paranoia that people are constantly trying to get out of doing “enough” work.

The director recently announced a new policy requiring employees to disclose prescription and over-the-counter drugs for existing medical conditions “if the the drugs may have side effects that could affect job performance” (full text below). For context, I work in a desk job in the nonprofit sector, not construction or anything to do with public safety.

This really freaks me out! It seems to me that basically all medications could have side effects that could affect job performance. Even basic painkillers can cause dizziness, headaches, etc. I have a chronic health condition that I would prefer not to disclose the details of, as I worry that my supervisor and director will judge my performance based on this knowledge of my medical history. If I reveal the numerous medications I take, which of course have potential side effects, it will be obvious what my condition is. I’m also concerned they will see me as potentially expensive to insure even though my condition is in remission and well managed. We have no HR and no there are functionally no boundaries between my supervisor and the director.

Is this a normal policy? Am I overreacting to this?

Full text: “Company X’s employees are prohibited from the misuse or abuse of prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) drugs. Employees who are using prescribed or OTC drugs for existing medical conditions must inform the Executive Director of such treatment to discuss the necessity of temporary alteration of job duties if, and only if, the drugs may have side effects that could affect job performance.”

Uh, no. It’s not normal, it’s not legal, and you’re not overreacting.

Calling this a huge overstep doesn’t even begin to get at how utterly batshit insane it is.

Perhaps they’d also like you to disclose everything going on in your personal life that could feasibly make you 5% less attentive at work that day, or whenever you were up late having sex the night before because you might be sleepy at work the next day, or a full accounting of what you’ve eaten this week in case you’re not getting sufficient nourishment for your brain to be at maximum capacity.

But let’s go back to the “not legal” part of this, since that’s what you can raise to get this halted.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits employers from asking employee medical questions (including asking about medications) unless it’s job-related and consistent with business necessity.

Your ridiculous employer might try to argue that they’re asking out of business necessity, but that won’t fly. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which interprets and enforces the ADA, says that to require disclosure, (1) the employer must be one that affects public safety, (2) the employee must be in a position affecting public safety, and (3) the nature of the medication required to be reported must be one that affects the employee’s ability to perform their essential functions, resulting in a direct threat to safety.

In other words, your employer doesn’t qualify.

The penalties to an employer breaking this law are monetary settlements, policy changes, and ongoing monitoring by the EEOC.

So, I’d recommend saying this to your director: “We actually can’t do this — it’s illegal under federal law. The EEOC and the Americans with Disabilities Act prohibit employers from requiring employees to disclose medications unless they work in public safety, and even then there are a bunch of restrictions on it. There are serious monetary penalties for breaking that law, along with ongoing scrutiny from the EEOC. We could get in a lot of trouble if we don’t revoke this immediately.”

You should also tell your coworkers about the law, so that they’re armed with the same information as you are.

I’m betting that this is the tip of the iceberg of mismanagement and possibly illegal behavior in your office, and I hope you’re actively trying to get out.

{ 496 comments… read them below }

    1. :-)*

      This is the 3rd decent (read: awful) contester, and it is only the start of the 3rd week of the year…

    2. Andraste's Knicker Weasels*

      Also, Alison has requested that people don’t comment with “worst boss of the year” type comments, as they can be derailing and distract from the actual letters.

    3. Decima Dewey*

      The medications I take do have a long list of side effects. Yes, headaches, weakness, digestive issues, drowsiness, anxiety, insomnia, confusion, memory problems, etc. could affect my job performance. However, if I don’t take my meds, I may end up in a diabetic coma. Then there would be no job performance to be affected!

  1. JokeyJules*

    This is an instance where you would still have a tremendous impact as an individual mentioning this to your boss, which is reassuring! Per Alison’s advice I’d share this information with your coworkers and try to band together to keep this employer in check.

    I have no idea why they think they should have this information…

    1. Snark*

      I think this information should be shared as widely as possible, but I also don’t think this is one of those “band your coworkers together and confront the boss” kinds of scenarios. I think this is so clear-cut illegal that she just needs to make leadership (and potentially counsel!) aware of it.

        1. Magenta Sky*

          Maybe instead of submitting the list of medications, submit a lawyer from one’s lawyer explaining precisely which laws are being broken. Or that might be a bit overboard.

          1. MusicWithRocksInIt*

            In order to get a lawyer to write this letter you would need to pay them money, and no one should have to pay money to keep their employer from breaking the law. Explain that it is illegal, and if they don’t back down then report them.

            1. Magenta Sky*

              Sadly, how the world should work rarely has much to do with how it does work. I suspect a letter from a lawyer would shut this down faster than anything short of a raid by a SWAT team, which would be nice for everyone else, but it also seems likely that (since they’ve already broken the law) the employee who sent it would end up unemployed very quickly.

              Like I said, it might be a bit overboard.

      1. Gazebo Slayer*

        I’d try to band together first. An employer crappy enough to pull this is crappy enough to summarily fire someone who objects to their policies (even or especially because they’re illegal) – but if everyone objects as a group they probably won’t just fire everyone at once.

      2. epi*

        I agree.

        The OP should definitely tell their coworkers– but to protect them. Some may not realize they don’t have to, and indeed, shouldn’t, share this information. Once they do share it, they can’t exactly make their boss un-know it.

      3. Glitsy Gus*

        I would do a tandem effort. Tell your manager this is illegal, but then get word spreading through your coworkers ASAP as well.

        The main reason for the whisper network being that I’m sure there are other people who are on medications they don’t particularly want to disclose and they should know they don’t have to before they provide the information, as it can’t really be taken back the once they submit it.

      4. lazuli*

        I think it’s worth mentioning to coworkers just so that they don’t submit a list of their medications to the employer in the meantime.

    2. J*

      Yeah, it’s super weird that they think this is appropriate. My only guess for why they’re asking is that an employee had some kind of issue (say, they fainted) as a result of a medication.

      But like, if your employees are being affected by medication, then, well.. your employees are being affected by medication. You can see exactly what their performance is, and if for some reason it’s inadequate, then you can just mention THAT (and then the employee can mention their health issues if they need/choose to).

      1. Hey Nonny Anon*

        I’ve fainted twice in my 19 years working at my current organization (I mean, twice during work hours; I’ve also fainted on my own time), but neither time was the result of my medications, two of which do have dizziness as a potential side effect. It would have been totally inappropriate for anyone to assume that I they have a better idea than I do about why I am experiencing syncope.

  2. Tigger*

    This is a whole lot of NOPE. I would not be surprised if he is trying to figure out who to layoff, so he is going with the people that cost the most to insure. This is crazy

    1. Rebecca*

      This is where my mind went first – health insurance, and then to people being let go because of their health concerns. Just bad all the way around.

      1. Tigger*

        It’s like that dumb meme that went around a few years ago about the boss who can’t afford Obama care for his staff so he gave pink slips to everyone with Democrat/ Obama bumper stickers on their cars because “they voted for this!”.

        1. Tigger*

          Gah the comment got cut off

          Point being, I can’t believe actually doing something like this in real life is a great idea *eye roll*

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Maybe, but I see lots of other possibilities too. For example, someone made a serious mistake and attributed it to a medication they were taking, and this is the ridiculous response to that. This sounds like the kind of office that would do that, once it occurs to them.

      1. Kathleen_A*

        That seems more likely to me as well. There are employers who are that Machiavellian, but there are even more who are indeed that clueless. The fact that this is a fairly small employer makes that even more likely, IMO. It’s just so easy to imagine that there was an incident in this company or in the company operated by the CEO’s brother or wife or somebody that could be attributed to medication, so TPTB came up with this “simple” idea to avoid the problem.

      2. Armchair Analyst*

        Could it be an office/corporate/administrative attempt to eliminate coverage for Rx contraception?

        So grateful this is (technically) illegal….

        1. Tigger*

          Oh god. I didn’t even think of that. I really hope I’m just being a cynic and it’s just because someone forgot to file a report and blamed it on cold meds

          1. Armchair Analyst*

            I’ve had unplanned pregnancies. I know misogynists. It’s a Big Deal.
            This is anti-woman, anti-disabled, ageist, and anti-worker.

            1. Pomona Sprout*

              “This is anti-woman, anti-disabled, ageist, and anti-worker.”

              It is absolutely all of the above!

              It’s anti-trans, too (at least for those who are on hormone therapy, which I assume is a great many of them*). Probably anti-other things as well. It SUCKS.

              *This is just my surmise; I don’t have any actual knowledge of what %of trans people are on hormones. I do know that in many, many cases, hormones can be a necessary part of maintaining a personal apoearance that is congruent with a person’s gender identity,.

        2. Observer*

          I think it’s highly unlikely. I think Allison’s scenario is the most likely. Even if not that, I think there are a lot more likely scenarios, especially since you’re talking about a micromanager who is also paranoid.

        3. So long and thanks for all the fish*

          Does that typically have side affects that can (negatively) affect job performance? (Taking it positively affected mine, I suppose, in that it stopped me from having debilitating cramps once a month) I wouldn’t even think to include hormonal BC if asked for “medications that could affect job performance”, so I’d doubt that would be their motive.

          1. Bagpuss*

            Not typically, but it *can* have side effects which *may* affect performance.
            According the NHS website,
            “Minor side effects include mood swings, nausea, breast tenderness and headaches.There’s a very low risk of serious side effects, such as blood clots and cervical cancer.”
            Other than the breast tenderness, any of those things could potentially affect your job performance. I mean, mostly they wouldn’t, and mostly you wont have them, and the minor ones would be (for many of us) *less* likely to affect our performance that the alternative of terrible cramps, multiple extra bathroom breaks , irritability etc, but the question was whether the medicine *may* have side effects which *could* affect performance. Not do you personally suffer side effects which are likely to affect your performance (which would still be a shitty and, based on Alison’s info, illegal, question)

          2. Ophelia*

            Technical is DOES affect my job performance….positively, since if I’m pregnant I spend most of the time either vomiting or forgetting things.

          3. TardyTardis*

            You would think that a company would realize that babies are more expensive than contraception, unless they have the policy of firing all pregnant women.

      3. Khaleesi Esq.*

        It does read like this is what happened, because of the caveat language to disclose medications for the purpose of discussing altering job responsibilities “… if, and only if, the drugs may have side effects that could affect job performance.”

        (Also, I can’t tell if that language means the employer is not asking for blanket disclosure of medications, or if it’s just meant to provide plausible deniability, and if it makes any difference.)

        1. Jadelyn*

          I read it as asking for blanket disclosure regardless of how the meds affect you, with the “discussion of job duties” bit only if the meds might theoretically affect your work performance. But I could see it being read either way, the wording is a tad ambiguous.

          1. bonkerballs*

            It didn’t seem ambiguous to me: disclose your medications if they will affect your job performance. However illegal, that’s pretty straightforward.

            1. Bagpuss*

              I read it as disclose anything if any of the potential side effects might potentially affect performance. So if the information for the drug says side effects may include x, y & z, they expect you to disclose, even if you haven’t ever personally experienced those side effects., if, if you *did* experience them, it might (not would, but might) affect your performance.

          2. Hey Karma, Over here.*

            I read it as, they want to review your medications to determine if the side effects which you may or may not have could affect work performance. So yeah, they want full access and veto power.

        2. Kathleen_A*

          I would interpret that as a way of saying “We don’t want to hear about everything. Just things that could affect job performance.” And to me, that would mean birth control – and my asthma medications – would be excepted.

          But that’s one of the secondary problems with this ridiculous scheme. The big one is, of course, that it’s invasive and ludicrous and completely ineffectual, but the secondary problem is that how in the world is anybody supposed to interpret “may have side effects that could affect job performance”? And besides, what’s going to affect job performance more: possible side effects of my asthma medication or wheezing until I’m blue in the face?

        3. Michaela Westen*

          If you read the labels on medications (in prescriptions they’re in the little folded-up paper in the box), they *all* have a list of potential side effects. So in theory *any* medication could have side effects – but they usually don’t.
          So trying to determine which meds have side effects for which people that could affect their job performance, is foolish. It’s impossible.

          1. :-)*

            It’s also a very stupid idea: yes every medication has side effects, but not every patient will experience these.

            Also: I’ve seen medical leaflets that mention contradictions with the side effects: obstipation and diarrhea… or both insomnia and somnolence.
            Just to say that not every side effect that is mentioned in the leaflet, will have an effect on the person taking the medication.

            Of course, some medication has serious side effects, but you know: that is between the patient and their doctor(s).

            1. Michaela Westen*

              “every medication has side effects, but not every patient will experience these.”
              Yes, exactly. Once in a while one or two people might get one of the side effects. The ones listed are ones test patients experienced, in small numbers, in clinical trials.
              So there’s no way to tell ahead of time which side effects will affect which people.

              1. Mongrel*

                The side effects are compiled from both the clinical trials and from patient reports once the drugs ‘are in the wild’, via the Black Triangle Scheme in the UK, although the weirder side effects are normally from the trials as they’re obligated to record & report every adverse effect and put it in the leaflet as part of the legal licensing process. It’s important to remember that these items are legal documentation, not clinical – items in here are often CYA.

                If you’ve lost your bit of paper you can fond them online, in the UK they’re over at the Electronic Medicines Compendium,, mostly people will want to look at the PILs (Patient Information Leaflet) the other items get technical. Another thing when you look at the adverse effects is that they’re listed in order of how frequently the effects occur, starting at 1 in 10 and going up in multiples of 10 from there (1 in 100, 1,000, 10,000 etc..)

      4. Anon govt workerbee*

        Reminds me of a phrase someone once told me that I really liked (and find to be usually true) that goes something like “never ascribe to conspiracy what you can explain by incompetence”

    3. SebbyGrrl*

      In my best Karen Kilgariff (mildly maniacal laugh),
      “HA ha! Your first and NOPE, here’s why!”

    4. EPLawyer*

      I don’t think its that nefarious. First paragraph says the boss is a micromanage who thinks people are trying to get out of doing “enough” work. So boss is checking to make sure people aren’t faking an illness to avoid work.

      Just a further excuse for Boss to micromanage.

      1. Trek*

        I am not proposing any one ask for a list of medications. However I am curious how the director will verify if people are telling them the truth?

        1. henrietta*

          Man, I sure would be tempted to list a bunch of made up medications (It’s easy! Just string random syllables together, with at least one scrabble triple-score letter) with “Side Effects: Decreased sarcasm and diminished litigiousness” (i.e. you want me to keep taking these, sir.)

          Of course this has to be nipped in the bud. But if that’s not so successful, satire is a useful tactic.

  3. Erin*

    Dear God. I want to know everything about this boss and his private life and why he is the way he is and who the heck let this person be in charge of other people in a work setting.

    Update on this one, pretty please.

    1. anonymous 5*

      All of this (especially the wanting an update part…am hoping that the proverbial book hits hard when it gets thrown at this boss…)

    2. Bazinga*

      Adding in an update request. This is so bonkers I don’t even know what to say and I’d love to hear how they react when they’re told how blatantly illegal this is.

    3. Parenthetically*

      Yes! Ye gods, LW, please please update us on this insanity. Or at least do what Hellmouth does and regale us in the Open Thread with the undoubtedly batsh!t stories you’ve collected in your time there!

    4. Greg*

      I know, right? Dollars to donuts if the OP sends an update we will learn all sorts of bats##t crazy stuff about the boss, like he and the insurance rep are having an affair and this is all part of some plot to confiscate employee’s prescription drugs so they can sneak off to a hotel room and snort the drugs themselves, and … well, you get the idea.

      Point is, when you see this level of crazy on the surface, no telling what you’ll find when you dig a little deeper.

      1. Oranges*

        I knowwwwww. And the fact that they’re so blatant means they don’t see anything wrong with this. In turn that raises the question: what ARE they doing under the radar??? I feel the same scientific fascination about this that I do when going down the Wiki rabbit hole of strange genetic disorders.

      2. Gazebo Slayer*

        I love this. It would be like the letter from the person whose coworker stole her lunch and accused her of trying to poison him because it was spicy, and got her fired, but it turned out he was having an affair with the HR director or something and she got them both fired and her job reinstated. Man, that was wild.

        1. Greg*

          Yes, I was thinking about that exact letter! Point being, the behavior was so irrational that there had to be some other explanation that made sense. I actually agree with Allison that a more mundane explanation for the boss’ behavior is more likely here, but I still think it’s a good rule of thumb that bosses who do crazy things do other crazy things.

      3. Adrian*

        I HOPE the update just says the boss backs off the specific request with something like, “Oops!” or maybe some grumbling, “If it weren’t for those meddling laws…”

        1. anna green*

          Season 1 Episode 3. One of my favorites!

          Dwight: OK, everyone. Gather round. Step forward. It has been brought to my attention that some of you are unhappy with my plan. So what I’d like you to do is to fill this out and write down any diseases you have that you might want covered and I’ll see what I can do.
          Jim: OK, you know what Dwight? We can’t write our diseases down for you because that’s confidential.

          1. Tigger*

            YES! I combined that episode with the fire/ Stanley heart attack episode in my head (Stanley has the heart attack then Dwight goes around trying to get everyone’s health info to figure out how to save money)

            1. LaDeeDa*

              Ha!! I love that episode and how he is sure that Meredith’s vagina was removed when she had her hysterectomy.

            2. Quality of Life?*

              Several years ago, I used to use the CPR bit of that episode as an icebreaker when I would teach 1st Aid/CPR/AED classes. The part where he destroys the manikin was just priceless.

        2. anna green*

          OP could always try this tactic :)

          Jim: Wait. What are you writing? Don’t write Ebola or mad cow disease. Right? ‘Cause I’m suffering from both.
          Pam: I’m inventing new diseases.
          Jim: Oh, great.
          Pam: So, let’s say my teeth turn to liquid and then, they drip down the back of my throat. What would you call that?
          Jim: I thought you said you were inventing diseases? That’s spontaneous dental hydroplosion.
          Pam: Nice.
          Jim: Thank you.

          1. Snark*

            I recently binged on Jack Ryan, and I was just having nothing but problems watching Jim shoot guys and run around with stuff exploding.

            1. Clorinda*

              Doesn’t it seem like a natural response to his previous career, though? “I’m making a lateral move into BURNING IT ALL DOWN!”

              1. Snark*

                I was really enjoying pretending that he actually WAS Jim from the Office, who had been recruited by the CIA after the end of the events in the show, and had assumed the name Jack Ryan as part of his covert ops cover.

            2. Exhausted Trope*

              I stopped watching the series because I couldn’t get Jim Halpert out of my head. Too bad cause I liked Jack Ryan.

          2. Fergus*

            spontaneous dental hydroplosion… next time I call in sick i am going to say something like this but use
            spontaneous intestinal hydro explosion…lmao

        3. quagmire*

          Yes – Michael had to pick the health insurance plan but he got too overwhelmed and delegated the task to Dwight, who made everyone (anonymously, I think) disclose all current and past medical conditions, and then had a full office meeting debating which ones were real/fake/deserved to be covered.

      1. Ellie*

        That was my first thought. Personally I’d be very tempted to come down with a case of count choculitus

          1. WonderingHowIGotIntoThis*

            Yep – David Brent is far… less likeable.
            The US Office seems to be dysfunctional, but nice. The UK Office is biting and cuts way too close to the truth.
            (caveat – I have never worked in a US office…)

            1. Hey Karma, Over here.*

              I tried watching the British version twice. Two separate episodes. I am not overstating the effect of a panic symptoms. I had to turn it off. Yes, it is like that. And I like my job and have been here twenty years. But watch that to relax? Hell to the no.

              1. MJ*

                The original version of the Office was too close to the mark for me. It really felt at times like a documentary filmed in some places I’ve worked. The US version was, I guess, you’d call a sit-com.

            2. Zaphod Beeblebrox*

              Didn’t watch the UK Office, mainly because I can’t stand Ricky Gervais.

              Might give the US office a go.

    1. Dankar*

      That was the first thing I thought of! I just watched finished The Office and I’m honestly shocked how many letters on AAM have an equivalent episode. Truly, the the truth is stranger than fiction….

  4. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

    There is not enough NOPE or YIKES in the world for this one.

    Alison is right. Don’t try the “this is illogical” tack because it doesn’t sound like logic is going to fly. Go straight to “this is hella illegal” and hopefully that will stick.

    Please update us with how this shakes out!!

    1. MissDisplaced*

      I think you’re right. Logic rarely works on these types of employers. And in my experience they’re usually the ‘big personality’ type small business owners. Proceed with “this is illegal to ask.”

  5. The Original K.*

    Leaving aside the blatant illegality of this, this part makes me so mad: “I’m also concerned they will see me as potentially expensive to insure even though my condition is in remission and well managed.”

    That shouldn’t be a concern of yours, OP! You should concentrate on your health and not feel guilty for managing your health as you need to. I know I’ve read horror stories here of people whose HR departments tell them straight up “You’re costing us too much in health insurance,” and they are indeed horror stories.

    1. MattKnifeNinja*

      My friend’s husband got, “Your wife’s high risk pregnancy, and premature infant’s care are the reasons we are dropping health insurance.”

      It’s a small manufacturing shop. So… at least OP’s business isn’t also gunning for family members too.

      1. Jadelyn*

        And this? Right here? Is why healthcare should NOT be tied to employment. Not to get political, but because this is what it leads to, with employers feeling entitled to employee health info and being just generally wayyyyy too tangled up in their staff’s medical affairs.

        1. Dare*

          I can’t leave my job because of its benefits. I’m on a very expensive medication that took almost a year for insurance to approve. I don’t have enough money to pay for COBRA not just for the transition period, but however long the new plan takes to approve it. It sucks a LOT.

        2. Miss Pantalones en Fuego*

          Yep. Although I know a bit of the history of how this came to be I have never understood why we have never broken out of employer controlled health insurance. Even if it’s not government funded there must surely be a way to have affordable insurance independent of your job.

          1. Parenthetically*

            We have coverage through a medical-sharing ministry and although it’s more expensive per month than the insurance offered through my husband’s job, the coverage is way, WAY better, and we don’t have to worry about dealing with a coverage gap if a better opportunity comes along. It gives us the chance to make decisions based on what’s best for our family rather than having to factor in insurance. It’s really worth it for us and I wish more people were eligible for stuff like this.

            Basically yes: why don’t we have universal healthcare, but failing that, 100%, it’s crazy that there aren’t more non-employment-based, affordable options.

            1. SS Express*

              As an Australian I have always been super confused about this. We do have universal health care here but many people opt to pay for their own health insurance too, but we just do that by buying it from an insurance company, the same as insuring your house or your car. I’m sure there is some kind of explanation but it’s not obvious to me!

              1. Parenthetically*

                You CAN buy your own insurance here, and lots of folks do, it’s just that for so many people insurance simply isn’t affordable unless it’s subsidized by their employer. We pay about $400/mo for our coverage; it would cost us about $225/mo to buy the insurance my husband’s work offers, because they subsidize the other portion of it.

                1. SS Express*

                  Thank you for this! I know some people do buy their own there but since it seems uncommon I thought it was something that only certain people were eligible for. $US400/mo is probably about what a couple would pay here too, but I just googled it and it sounds like the averages can be much higher than this so obviously a lot of people wouldn’t have that option. (And I mean, plenty of people wouldn’t have the option of paying $400/mo either.) Finally it makes sense!

              2. Perse's Mom*

                It also doesn’t help that it’s as variable as cell phone coverage or cable TV – not every insurance carrier is available everywhere, the prices vary widely (if you have dependents, that price can skyrocket), what each plan covers will vary, which hospitals or even doctors you can see, whether you prefer a higher premium or higher deductible*… it’s ridiculously complicated and frankly unaffordable for lots of people.

                *A low enough monthly premium most likely means a very high deductible (on top of the premium, you have to rack up and pay for usually thousands of dollars in medical expenses before the plan will pay much of anything). The alternative is higher monthly premiums and there’s probably still a deductible, just not as much of one. And again, if you have dependents, the premiums and deductibles are usually higher.

                1. k8899*

                  A different Australian here, who just checked their health insurance bills and determined that $400/month for a couple gets you into the top tier for company x, adding the extra thing going on here – deductibles don’t exist over here. In any form. Waiting periods often do, and waiving them is a common bonus, but the moment you buy/wait ends, you can start claiming.

        3. TootsNYC*

          it’s also why health care groups should be the largest possible–like, everybody int he state, or everybody in the nation–so that when one person has a really tough year, other people having a good year can cushion them. And then later, those people will get the cushion from the people whose conditions are now in remission and well managed.

          As a teenager, I heard about the problems with small insurance groups, and dropping coverage (or closing the group, thereby forcing people out) when oen person in that small group had a health problem. “Simple!” I thought. “If I were the governor of Iowa, I’d ask an insurance company to write a plan that included everyone in the state. Then we be guaranteed to have enough healthy people each year to cushion the people who weren’t.”

      2. Observer*

        That’s bad enough, if you squint hard enough you can understand it. When is a major company and the CEO announces this to the whole company, that’s just . . . words fail. (Not to defend that employer, at all!)

        Tim Armstrong, the CEO of AOL, called out two preemies that had been born that year to employees as the reason for cutting contributions to the 401k plan – in a company wide conference call. Although he technically didn’t name names, it was very clear who the people were.

        1. The Original K.*

          I want to cry reading that. In fact, if I were one of those parents, I WOULD cry. Can you imagine being one of the “offending” employees and having the stress of a preemie, and on top of that, now you’re being made to feel guilty about it because the company is punishing the rest of its employees? UGH.

            1. Observer*

              She also write a really good article about it after it happened. And yes, you’re going to want to cry reading what she writes there. Sure, he privately apologized and he also walked back the decision. But, he put them through the wringer, for no good reason.

          1. MattKnifeNinja*

            My friend was “lucky” the loose lip book keeper/HR/ jack of all trade told him on the down low, not the boss.

            The boss sent out a memo saying the insurance doubled to cover the small shop. He number crunched, and it was cheaper to do the insurance exchange. The boss wasn’t caring medical for himself or his family either.

            It’s a gross mess. The owner never called my friend out, and has been nothing up supportive in other ways. The book keeper/HR should have been quiet.

            1. Cathy Gale*

              It begs the question of whether the boss actually made that decision for more reasons than just the pregnancy and birth and whether the “HR” turd just decided on his own prerogative to make it personal and blame that family.

        2. pope suburban*

          Oh my god. I’d have been LIVID just to hear that. I don’t even have kids, but I don’t think parenthood is a requirement for understanding just how agonizing a premature birth can be. It’s difficult to even know how to support a friend from the sidelines; I can’t even imagine what it’s like to be a parent in that spot. To hell with Tim Armstrong- he made this miserable decision, and it’s on his cowardly head. Those families should be kept out of it entirely.

          Just…lord, that is vile.

          1. Lavender Menace*

            My nephew was born prematurely. He’s two months old now and doing fine, but I will never, ever forget my sister’s gut-wrenching sobs when she called me to tell me she had to leave him at the hospital. They will haunt me forever.

            I’m older than her by four years and I usually know what to say to calm her down or make her feel better, but that time I just had absolutely nothing.

            So yeah, I can only imagine how utterly painful it would be to hear however many months later that oh, it’s your sick kid’s fault that your entire company is getting less in compensation. What. the. hell.

        3. Liza Not Lisa*

          I can’t read about AOL Tim Armstrong without picturing Rancid’s Tim Armstrong and it’s quite the mental image.

        4. Lavender Menace*

          Not only is that cruel and heartless, from the perspective of a company as big as AOL, it’s just dumb. Premature infants can be expensive but in the face of the number of people who worked at AOL at its peak and the money it was bringing in, two premature infants hardly seems like a good justification to cut all employees’ 401(K) matching. Now as a company CEO you’re just being cruel to those parents and insulting to everyone else.

      3. Liane*

        Doesn’t just happen at small places. A few years ago, AOL’s then-CEO Tim Armstrong blamed health insurance payouts for 2 “distressed babies” for the company’s decision to cut back 401k benefits.
        (Not) Amazingly, it didn’t get his sorry self fired–Verizon let him go when they bought up AOL or its parent company (not sure how things were structured), and I would be surprised if this incident factored into Verizon not keeping him on.

        1. Liane*

          Looks like Observer & I posted about the same time. One of the moms wrote an article for Slate about it, so the identity of at least one is easily discovered, and of course, everyone who worked with 1 or both of the employee-parents would know exactly who he was calling out.

          1. Observer*

            She says that pretty much everyone knew who he was referring to – either immediately or shortly thereafter as it became THE topic of gossip.

      4. Artemesia*

        I have never understood why small business types are so right wing on health care since the US is less competitive precisely because we stick businesses with health care costs. It would be better for all US business large and small if health care were not part of employment — and it is literally an accident of WWII tax law that made it so. It makes no sense to tie health insurance to employment particularly because serious illness often causes one to lose a job and thus insurance. Yes a small firm can lose affordable health insurance options when one member has serious costs. My husband’s small law firm had to pay over 20K a year per employee because of the health history and demographics of their staff — that or fire the secretary with the sick kid and the paralegal with the sick husband.

        1. Jules the 3rd*

          You hit a big problem in US society there. It’s because the US believes intensely in the ‘wealth = morality’ and ‘work = worth’ myths (thanks, Puritans). If we decoupled work and health care, some people who are not workers / married to / children of workers might get some! And because they do not Work, they are not Worthy of health care. That attitude extends in some very ugly ways, mixing enthusiastically with misogyny and racism. It’s what happens when money is the only metric.

          (caveat: I am a US citizen, trying hard to reject these myths…)

          1. KTB*

            Let’s definitely not overlook the significant impact of racism on the US’s decision not to implement universal health care. At the time that most countries were implementing single payer healthcare, the US opted not to, in part because most institutions were still segregated, and single payer healthcare would have to apply to everyone, not just white people. Truman tried to implement single payer healthcare, and was blocked in every way by Southern politicians and the AMA.

        2. Miss Pantalones en Fuego*

          I read an interesting article about that a while ago (link to follow). A lot of it has to do with the AMA being opposed to universal care and regulation, apparently.

        3. TootsNYC*

          I read an essay by a Canadian CEO who said the same thing. Why aren’t American businesses, both large AND small, demanding universal tax-funded health coverage? How much energy do corporations spend on researching and administering benefits?

          And how much more competitive would smaller shops be, if they could lure talent away from a big company based on the growth opportunity, without having to compete on medical benefits?

      5. Delovely Delightful Debonair*

        It is only a matter of time before companies just offer everyone a voucher for medical care. Use it all up and you don’t get any more for the year. Whatever you don’t use, you don’t get to keep.

        1. katherine*

          This would be significantly more than most companies do, which is not to offer health insurance at all.

      6. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Instead most places just don’t offer family healthcare options :(

        It terrified me once I realized that after you’re a certain size and plan, you get to see the claims that are being submitted.

      7. OP*

        Op here – so sorry to hear that your friend dealt with that, that’s a risk I worry about as someone with a “pre-existing condition” that I think healthy people don’t always know about. But in our case, the job does not provide insurance for family members so no need to include them in this policy ha

      8. Asariel*

        I used to work at a well known TX Baptist university, and this exact situation happened in about 2005 or so. It was in an organization wide email that. They honestly thought that if they didn’t name names, it wasn’t a problem. EVERYONE knew who they meant.

    2. Oranges*

      I’m one of those! (Previous job). Welcome to the horror of US health care.

      I got diagnosed at 14yrs old, I’ve lived with this for 20 years now. The things I know about lapsing coverage, how to get coverage when you’re working jobs that don’t pay a living wage, what loopholes existed (my knowledge is 5 years out of date) in MNCare , the normal waiting period to get ON MNCare, where to get legal discounts on my drugs, COBRA and how long you can use it, what happens if you can’t pay your COBRA amount….

      If I could write, I’d write a book called “My life, insurance, and the BS I have to do not to be in agony all the time”

  6. sourgold*


    I’m coming in here from a on-US perspective, but where I live our medical conditions are kept strictly private — if a doctor determines that we have to get time off or take medication, we are under no obligation to disclose anything about it other than “I’m sick, and my doctor has delivered an attestation of poor health/asked for accomodations on my behalf/etc”. No specifics. The mere idea of telling my employer (the government!) the number of pills I take every night to make it through the next day is horrifying.

    Push back on this, OP. Push back on it HARD.

    1. Michaela Westen*

      If they don’t drop it, maybe see an attorney? IANAL, but this sounds like a lawsuit (class-action?) in the making…

      1. Parenthetically*

        Same. Few things make my day like Alison applying herself to a truly egregious workplace violation.

    1. Elizabeth West*

      Ha, yes! LOL having sex all night. I certainly wouldn’t want to share that last one with my employer.

      But if they insisted, I’d be so tempted, just to watch their heads explode: “Why was I so tired? Well, boss, my SO from out of state was passing through town and we had all the sex! All night long, in four different locations — 1. Cowboy, on the sofa. 2. Doggy on the sofa. 3. Standing up in the shower. 4. Missionary on the bed. We used Trojan condoms, ribbed for my pleasure, and this brand of lube–I highly recommend it!”

      All said on my way out the door.

  7. ologist*

    I wonder if this is some kind of bonkers way to get AROUND potential ADA complaints, in that it opens a door to discuss alteration of work performance if a treatment/medication were to affect job duties…so that they can point back to the fact that it was on the employee to disclose/bring it up.

    1. learnedthehardway*

      I’d be pretty much forwarding the email to the EEOC and asking for a response on it…..

      1. Essess*

        Me too! That is so intrusive and invasive and offensive and every other “-ive” I can think of that I want the big guns to tell them how wrong it is.

        1. Walter White Walker*

          What interesting timing that this flagrantly illegal request came through when the EEOC was closed due to the government shutdown.

          OP, I’d be discretely asking around about a good employment attorney if I were you. This is flabbergasting.

          1. Liane*

            “What interesting timing that this flagrantly illegal request came through when the EEOC was closed due to the government shutdown.”
            LW only said it happened “recently,” and we have no way of knowing how long it was in Alison’s To Be Answered” queue. It might’ve been written 2 months ago, or last week. (I had a question she used the day after I emailed her.) I agree, though the EEOC isn’t going to be able to help as long as the shutdown lasts, so seeing an employment lawyer might be the LW’s best bet, if Alison’s script doesn’t work, or the LW decides not to try and talk the boss out of this.
            Note: I don’t think you legally *have to* go to the EEOC and have them investigate before you can sue, but IANAL.

          2. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Yep, you do have to go through the EECO first before you can sue on your own.

            But I really don’t think this is about the shutdown. That’s giving the employer more credit than is probably warranted, AND they probably don’t realize this is illegal in the first place so aren’t thinking about the EECO. Plus it generally takes the EEOC a long time to act. It’s not like if they were open, they’d be contacting the employer right away.

            1. The Doctor*

              I must disagree. I must assume that the employer DOES know that the request is illegal, simply because all U.S. employers are REQUIRED to know that it’s illegal.

              1. Someone Else*

                I think it’s overly optimistic to assume just because it is reasonable to actually know the laws your company is required to follow that the people employed by the company to make company policies actually know said laws. Incompetence is everywhere.

              2. Observer*

                Really? With some exceptions, there are absolutely no requirements to prove any sort of knowledge before opening a business.

              3. Jasnah*

                I think it’s just straight-up ignorance, but “surely you know this is illegal” is a good place to start. When the boss says “Oh sorry, we didn’t know,” you can come back with “Employers are required to know this is illegal, are there any other laws you don’t know that I should be concerned about?”

              4. Slartibartfast*

                I once had the business owner read uscall a passage from his Bible in a staff meeting, with the office manager’s foreknowledge and enthusiastic approval. Quite often, people don’t know what they don’t know.

        1. Beth*

          True, it took EEOC almost a full year to “investigate” my complaint from my former boss. I was extremely disappointed how little time they spent on my case! I was later told they don’t care about the little casses. They like the big ones so they get all the notoriety ctc. The bigger the better! More opportunity to show they are doing a GREAT job……. NOT…..
          in my experience!

  8. Mazzy*

    Where’s the mention of illegal drugs?! While they’re at it, I’d think that would be where to start! More of a rhetorical question but it shows the policy seems half baked

  9. glitter writer*

    I also have a chronic, easily identifiable condition, in remission and well-managed, and this is something I would flat-out refuse to comply with. Yikes. I’m with Alison, I hope OP is looking for a better place.

    1. Jadelyn*

      Same, and my chronic stuff is also mental stuff, which I am NOT going to just disclose to everyone in my company, but my meds would make it super clear which mental illnesses I have. My immediate team knows a tiny bit because I trust them, but I’m sure as hell not giving our CEO a rundown of my mental illnesses. You’d have to fire me first. (At which point I would dance my way out of the office with both middle fingers in the air and scoot right over to the EEOC.)

      1. MattKnifeNinja*

        I’d be tempted to put down Flinestone multivitamins, and call it a day.

        What do they want? A year long log from CVS on all my prescriptions that were filled? Receipts from the grocery store looking for the rogue Motrin purchase?

        I’ve never ever been out with my medical issues. The boss would have to work harder to glean that information from me.

        1. Artemesia*

          I’m cynical but don’t they through their health insurance already have access to prescriptions if they want it?

          1. Jules the 3rd*

            That should not be available in the US. That stuff’s covered by HIPAA, and I’d think you couldn’t anonymize it enough in a small company.

          2. crochetaway*

            Yeah HIPAA would cover this. It basically means that health agencies (doctors, hospitals, clinics, etc) can’t share info to anyone but the patient unless the patient authorized it. Covered entities (businesses that work with doctors, hospitals, clinics, etc – like insurance companies) are also covered under HIPAA’s laws. So it would be a huge HIPAA violation for an insurance company to disclose to the business it’s insuring what prescriptions it’s covering for whom.

          3. Bekx*

            I think they can? I remember my benefits person at my last job being able to download an excel doc of all my medical things. It was with my permission, we were trying to figure out what benefit plan would be smartest for me (HSA or regular PPO). It had things like what insurance paid for, what my out of pocket costs were, etc…So she was able to calculate based on it what would be more cost effective.

                1. Magenta Sky*

                  That sounds like a HIPAA violation in my rather in-expert opinion – but on the part of the insurance company, not your employer.

    2. ElspethGC*

      This would also out trans and intersex folks who need to take hormonal medications but don’t want to be out to everyone at work, so add gender and sex discrimination into the mix.

    3. OhNo*

      Same, same, same. If I didn’t feel I could push back for some reason, I’d be lying outright and saying, “I don’t take any medications,” while popping my thrice-daily meds in my mouth. It’s like the employer version of ‘ask a stupid question, get a stupid answer’.

      1. Miss Pantalones en Fuego*

        I think I’d be saying “I don’t take anything that would affect my performance here” and refuse to fill it in.

        I’ve been asked this question for jobs, but I work in a construction related field. I didn’t put down anything, even though I had two prescriptions at the time, because neither had any relevant effects. If the OP feels unable to bring up the legal issue I’d go with this kind of response.

    4. Sleepless*

      Yeah, I got the heebies reading this. I take a high dose of a sleep medication with well-known side effects (they don’t happen if I’m careful) and no WAY would I want somebody like this to know about it.

  10. mf*

    I’d just go ahead and report this to the EEOC if I were. You can still use Allison’s script, but their behavior is so egregious that I don’t think they really deserve an opportunity to rectify it before dealing with the consequences.

    1. Susana*

      MeToo, as they say… I would not deal with this as though it were some kind of naive but well-intentioned effort by mgt.

    2. Snark*

      Yeah. I think you can report with an expectation of anonymity, if you just want to see people thrown against the wall for this one.

      1. OP*

        I don’t think it’s so easy to file anonymously.
        Per the EEOC website: “When you file a charge, you must give us your name. Your name must appear on the charge, and it must be signed by you. We are required by law to give your charge to the employer so that the employer can answer the claims made in your charge. If you wish to remain anonymous, we will accept a charge that is filed on behalf of someone else who has been the victim of discrimination. The charge can be filed by a person or an organization. In such cases, we usually don’t tell the employer who the charge was filed on behalf of, but we do tell the employer the name of the person or organization who filed the charge.

        In practice, however, it may be difficult to hide the identity of the person who believes they have been the victim of discrimination during the investigation, even though a name is never released, because of the circumstances of the charge.”

        1. Blue*

          I’m also guessing this boss is too clueless to realize they’re closed right now. Just threatening to contact them may do the trick.

        2. RUKidding*

          Plus the company/management might not think “they aren’t open right now so …score (!!!) I can do whatever I want” anyway. Threatening the EEOC should get their attention.

          OP don’t just threaten (i.e. mention) them with the EEOC…file a complaint. Yesterday.

    3. It’s A Bird, It’s A Plane, It’s SuperAnon*

      Agreed. OP doesn’t need to paint a target on her back, especially in such a small office. If other coworkers are willing to speak up too then maybe it will be worth it, but OP might make herself easily identifiable and vulnerable to retaliation. Yes there are laws to protect whistle blowers but the company doesn’t seem to follow typical employment laws.

      1. bunniferous*

        YES. THIS.

        OP, do not disclose and do not say anything to your boss. Report this directly and be anonymous. I would not trust these folks not to retaliate.

      2. Jadelyn*

        That’s a beautiful euphemism for “is doing illegal shit to their employees left and right”, lol.

    4. A person*

      Agree, I’d go ahead and report this, but if you do talk to management about the illegality of it, I’d also make sure to say you personally have no medications that you need to tell them about (it’s true! You don’t have to disclose this!)

      I am concerned without that caveat, the director will think the letter writer is only concerned because it impacts them directly and they end up first on the chopping block if the goal is to get rid of people with medical issues. They might assume that anyway, hence why it should be reported first.

      Also a good idea to start job searching.

  11. Alton*

    That’s a ridiculous policy. Not only is it illegal and intrusive, but it’s really broad. They want you to disclose OTC drugs, too? Are you supposed to notify the Executive Director every time you take a Tylenol for a headache?

    1. LKW*

      Remember, Tylenol can affect the health of your kidneys. Over the counter cold medicines can cause grogginess. High does of certain vitamins can cause pretty severe health issues. Your employer needs to know if you’re at risk for Hepatitis B because you’ve overdone it on Five Hour energy drinks (real case!).

      “Overstep” is not strong enough here. “Violation” is probably closer.

      1. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

        Actually, Tylenol can affect liver health. Ibuprofen is the one that affects kidney health. I’m sure aspirin and Aleve have similar warnings, I just don’t know them off the top of my head (or the stash in my desk drawer).

        1. Vermonter*

          Certain NSAIDs can also cause chronic tinnitus. I don’t know about you, but I can’t focus at all when my ears are ringing so loudly I can’t hear normal conversation.

          (… ask me how I know this.)

          1. dawbs*

            And all of the above can trigger ‘rebound headaches’–even in people who are not migraine sufferers (ask me how I know this :P)

      2. Jaz*

        Even briefly setting aside all of the legal reasons this is a bad idea (and there are SO MANY REASONS) I also can’t imagine the hit my workplace morale would take if I had to inform my boss any time I needed Midol, Preparation H, stool softener, antidiarrheals, etc.

    2. SpiderLadyCEO*

      I would absolutely be walking into the exec’s office every time I took a tylenol. Furthermore, I would notify him every time I drank a coffee.

      Just drive him up the wall by following the policy to the letter!

        1. OhNo*

          Hay boss, let me give you a detailed rundown of how I expect the Midol I took for these horrific cramps to affect my work over the next couple of days. First, I expect to need a bathroom break about every two hours…

    3. anon24*

      I get migraines. I would absolutely be emailing “Hey I have another headache and this one feels like a doozy so I took double the max dose. Just wanted you to know so if I pass out you can pass this info on to EMS”.

      And I would do this every single time. Mixed with a peppering of random “Chili for lunch! Took some Gas X! Just wanted to let you know” “Per policy I am notifying you that I took Pepto Bismal because I just can’t shake this explosive diarrhea. You would not BELIEVE the colors it’s been!”

  12. Susana*

    This reminds me of that episode of The Office where Dwight, assigned to pick a new health care plan, demands that everyone in the office reveal their illnesses so they know what has to be covered.
    Except that this thing isn’t at all funny.

  13. MuseumChick*

    It would be so hard for me to be respond in a smart ass-manner. Think and email with a like:

    “Aspirin – occasional use for (list of everything I’ve taken an aspirin for) – Side effects observed: (list) – Potential side effects: – (list)” Repeat for ever medication I have ever taken.

    Your boss is an ass.

    1. Rebecca*

      “Aspirin – frequent use for dealing with a boss who is a pain in my ass and makes my head hurt due to his stupidity” Oh man, would I be so tempted.

      1. mcr-red*

        OMG YES. I’m on anxiety medication, so mine would be:

        Anxiety medication – due to my panic attacks and general stress from working here, as prescribed by my therapist after hearing all about working here.

    2. Amber Rose*

      Tylenol: for headaches caused by irrational management.
      Aspirin: For when my boss is being a pain in the ass.
      Motrin: because I can’t deal with management and PMS without killing someone.
      Percocet and Wine: Chemical happiness to counter job depression.

      Side effects for all: I’m actually able to tolerate this job without running out the front door screaming.

      1. kittymommy*

        Percocet and Wine: So I don’t get charged with a falony
        Side effects for all: The cops haven’t come to the office and you don’t have to do multi-position job searches.

    3. Bilateralrope*

      I’m on a medication with a large list of things I need to know. Both sides of approximately a4 page. Only two lines are related to my job. One of those is telling me to avoid alcohol and the other is one I might need to bring up soon regardless.

      I get a copy with every box of pills. I’d be tempted to just submit the whole page and let my boss read through it.

      But bringing up the illegality is better.

  14. Kramerica Industries*

    I highly recommend letting your coworkers know that they legally don’t have to submit to this insanity. My worry is that if OP refuses alone, a director this crazy won’t hesitate to retaliate against OP. Aside from leaving, how is OP protected against unfair treatment or getting fired for “not being a team player” or something here?

    1. crochetaway*

      Yeah, in a small company I’d be worried about retaliation. I would clue the coworkers in, in case they don’t already know. Then not comply. And have filed an EEOC complaint yesterday. Then when boss asks you why you haven’t complied, you can say something, but I wouldn’t say anything if you’re not asked about it.

    2. dawbs*

      this–you don’t have to go as a group but if you’re the ONLY person who says ‘uh….no? and this is why’ while everyone else gives in, it still might be bad for you OP.

  15. Jerry*

    Allison: I don’t know if this is sampling bias or representative, but your blog makes it seem like Non-profits are full of petty tyrants, when that is the opposite of what I’d expect. Any theories on this?

    1. Elizabeth Proctor*

      I mean, it also makes it seem like for-profits are full of petty tyrants too. Most people don’t write in to this blog to share good stories. It’s definitely sampling bias.

      1. Kat in VA*

        I agree. I don’t constantly write about my awesome company that pays well, has a phenomenal PTO policy, easygoing employees, and understanding bosses.

        I started reading AAM when I was undergoing a job search (in between stints at said Awesome Company™) and the definite feeling was “Oh my god does anyone work at a job they like ANYWHERE??? This is going to suuuuuuuck…”

        So good jobs, good bosses, and yes, good HR does exist.

    2. Eeyore's missing tail*

      I think this has been discussed before. It’s not as much for-profit vs. non-profit, but small org vs. large org. A larger org is more likely to have a trained HR staff that can nip problems like this before they happen than a small org that either has no HR or HR is also the person who does payroll and several other jobs.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yes. A few things.

        1. It’s small organizations in general, not nonprofits in particular.

        2. This is really significant and people always seem to forget it: People don’t write in and say “I work for a for-profit business” (who says that?) so you don’t hear it the 90% of times that’s the case. But nonprofit workers do tend to identify themselves as nonprofit workers, so it stands out more.

        3. There are plenty of well-functioning nonprofits and plenty of disastrous for-profits. More here:

        1. Jasnah*

          Also people don’t write in about the times their competent HR/manager at their non (or for!) profit nipped an issue in the bud.

    3. AnonEMoose*

      Not Alison (I’m not nearly that awesome), but I have a couple of thoughts. The first is that we do tend to hear about the ones where there are issues; people who are happy in functional workplaces don’t tend to write in for advice.

      Second…I think a lot of nonprofits start out as something the person or people who found them are very passionate about. But that doesn’t make them good managers. And, like owner-operated companies, they may not realize that everyone who works for them is not necessarily as passionate about “the mission” as they are. So they end up feeling slighted or like the employees aren’t sufficiently dedicated or similar, and react on that basis without thinking it through.

      Or they end up founding their own organization because they don’t play well with others, but then it gets big enough that they can’t do it on their own anymore.

      Or any combination of the above.

    4. gecko*

      Confirmation bias (when you see a dysfunctional nonprofit letter and it confirms your impression that there are a lot of nonprofit letters on here) and the fact that most LWs don’t explicitly mention that their workplace is not a nonprofit. You read “nonprofit”, you never read “not a nonprofit” though that can be assumed in many cases, and your impression of nonprofits’ representation in the AAM body of work is cemented.

    5. Regina Phalange*

      FWIW, I work for a small non-profit and it just might be the best job I’ve ever had. Great benefits, I can leave at 5pm 90% of the time, and my co-workers are mostly pretty great!

    6. OyHiOh*

      Eh. “Small business (less than X employees)” and “family owned (less than X employees)” seem to weight almost evenly with “small non profit org.”

      I think the common thread is any type of company/organization that’s small enough to not have a proper trained HR person/department.

  16. Peridot*

    Oh, hell no. I heartily second Alison’s advice about actively trying to get out of that office. That is not a person you want to work for, especially when having this policy countermanded might result in some blowback.

  17. Sherri*

    Note the date and time! It’s one of those rare posts where the question, “Is this legal?” is actually “YES!”

    Oh, and please add this to the list of posts needing an update from the OP.

    1. Jadelyn*

      I just had to have the “illegal vs wrong” discussion with my sister-in-law this weekend. Her boss is an ass and a terrible manager, but my SIL had some of the very common misconceptions we see people having here about what’s legal and what’s not in the workplace, and when you need to involve HR vs when you need to go further up the management chain. So I had to be the bearer of bad news and tell her “what your boss is doing is really crappy, and not okay…but it’s not illegal, and there’s nothing you can do to force her to stop doing it.”

    2. Daisy*

      ‘It’s one of those rare posts where the question, “Is this legal?” is actually “YES!”’
      I flick through the archives here often, and every single one of the fairly numerous letters that involve illegal activity has multiple comments along these lines. ‘That’s illegal’ actually seems to be far more common (most frequently related to wage questions), but commenters here seem to have the perception that people are constantly writing in with stupid questions and make sure everyone knows they will be made fun of if they’re wrong. Well done for putting people off asking questions about their rights, I guess?

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        It’s always seemed to me as more of a commentary about the weaknesses of U.S. labor law than mocking people who don’t know the nuances of those weaknesses.

        1. Jadelyn*

          Yes – it’s not so much “haha stupid people don’t know what’s illegal!” it’s “Hey look, we actually found something our crappy labor laws cover for once!”

        2. Pomona Sprout*

          Yes! The weaknesses of U.S. labor law are many and great. It’s shocking some of the things employers can get away with in this country without going near the line of what’s legal, much less crossing over it,

      2. RUKidding*

        “…commenters here seem to have the perception that people are constantly writing in with stupid questions and make sure everyone knows they will be made fun of if they’re wrong.”

        I dont see that. Pretty much the opposite of this for probably 90+% of commenters (if we were to actuslly count/do the math) in my estimation.

        1. boo bot*

          I think it’s 90% about the weakness of our labor laws, and 10% frustration that people on the internet are often wrong.

          What I do think happens sometimes is, all advice columns (all delightful advice columns, anyway) get questions that amount to, “This is bonkerballs, right? Please tell me I’m not the one who’s bananacrackers here, so I will feel justified to say something/do something/feel righteous in my outrage while I look for a new job.” They’re not really looking for action items, just a reality check.

          So, Alison answers the question they’re asking: Yes, this is bonkerballs/This is outrageous but also common/Ask not for whom the bonkerballs toll. They toll for thee. (I’m paraphrasing…)

          So, all is well. But, there’s not much for the comments to add to the advice, so we talk about the situation: “OMG, that’s not illegal, you’d think it would be!”; “People should talk directly to each other about stuff.”; “Here are nineteen red flags I saw in that story.”; “It could be llamas!” None of those things are necessarily directives to the letter writer, but I can see where it could read that way.

          Here endeth the unsolicited meta-analysis.

    3. Sherri*

      UGH. I had that backwards. “Is this illegal?” and “yes” are the combination of question and answer that are rare. And for the record, I was not in any way mocking anyone asking that question. Just noting that this is a rare instance, which makes it especially entertaining.

  18. Night Cheese*

    I kinda wish the OP could just forward Alison’s reply to everyone in their office, including the boss.

    1. CatCat*

      Just post it on the bulletin board where the legal workplace notices are posted, but post it over the notices and highlight all over it and maybe point a big arrow at it so people will notice it.

      Assuming the employer has even bothered to post those types of required notices.

  19. Eeyore's missing tail*

    Yikes! Please talk to your coworkers and ED as soon as you can.

    I could see this also going to into pregnancy discrimination. What if someone is taking a prenatal or progesterone shots (sorry, progesterone shots are the only pregnancy medication I can think off). While I feel very safe discussing my pregnancy in my office, I know that’s not the same for everyone.

    1. Liane*

      Or the meds used to induce ovulation like Clomid, or used in IVF, which are good clues someone is trying to conceive.

    2. ElspethGC*

      HRT for trans and intersex people, too (I mentioned this somewhere else upthread), and there are a *lot* of trans and intersex people who don’t want their workplace to know about it. That’s gender and sex discrimination on the cards.

      Would someone who disclosed that they were on HRT for menopause be potentially liable for being the target of age discrimination, as well?

  20. ChemistryChick*

    Oh heeellll to the no. So much nope in this policy. Keep us updated, OP and I hope you’re able to GTFO ASAP.

  21. Amber Rose*

    Safety person here. I need to know if your medication makes it not OK for you to do parts of your job, like driving or operating heavy machinery. If you’re a desk jockey, I probably want to know if your medication is going to make you straight up faint at random so we can have a plan for you to limit time in dangerous areas, or how much standing you have to do. I can’t even force you to tell me that one though, even though the gov’t will try to bust me if something happens. :/

    Anyways the point is this is a huge invasion of privacy and I hope you are job hunting like mad right now.

    1. Antilles*

      Agreed. I work in construction/site work and this level of intrusiveness would be out of place even in our industry.
      If you’re taking a medication which makes you drowsy or unable to operate machinery, then you would generally be expected to disclose that for safety reasons…but even then, you just need to disclose the *effects* – you don’t need to name the medication, just how we need to adjust the job to keep you safe.

    2. Jason A.*

      It may be intrusive, but it is very common in the oil&gas and mining industries. Typically the employer will hire an outside medical group to be the go between. It isn’t right, but it is common (and presumably legal).

  22. Delta Delta*

    In addition to being totally bonkers, this seems like the kind of situation where perhaps there are 1 or 2 people who are the actual target of the sweeping policy, but rather than talking to those people about what’s going on, it turns into a punishment for everyone. Maybe Jane in accounting or Gavin in purchasing really ARE taking medications that are causing an impact on their performance, and rather than the manager saying, “it seems like something’s going on, is everything ok?” it turns into “everyone must always …”

    You know, just to add another layer to the obvious ineffectiveness and/or stupidity of this whole situation.

    1. Rusty Shackelford*

      That’s an interesting possibility. It also makes me wonder if the policy maker erroneously thinks they can’t discriminate against Jane or Gavin by asking what they’re taking, so they think it would be more appropriate to ask everyone. Because policy makers get pretty ridiculous ideas sometimes…

    2. Lucille2*

      But it’s possible that Jane or Gavin are working through health issues and currently trying to find the right treatment plan. Finding the right treatment plan for chronic health problems is a journey. Everyone reacts differently to medication, so what works well for one will make another a total mess.

      Had a coworker who was trying to find the right treatment for his narcolepsy. Poor guy STRUGGLED at work for several months before things started to improve. Fortunately for him, he did not work at a place like the OP.

      1. dawbs*

        hell, I have dealt w/ changing meds for years.

        I saw my neurologist today. I have an unrelated medical thing coming up, so I am not changing any of the meds I take (12 pills a day currently) right now. If all goes well are weaning 1 in april and adjusting another’s dosages in July.
        I’ve been doing this dance for more than 10 years as I build up tolerances/something changes/I have to go on another med for a different problem and they’re contraindicated/whatever. I’d have to submit something at LEAST once every 3 months w/ all the changes.

    3. Jubilance*

      I was thinking that too. My first thought was that someone was high at work on pain meds (either prescribed or obtained illegally) and something happened that put the organization at risk. But whatever the reason this is a really crappy policy and totally misguided.

  23. Rusty Shackelford*

    “We could get into a lot of trouble with the EEOC.”

    “Oh, don’t worry, they’re not going to find out.”

    “You know what? I can absolutely guarantee they’re going to find out.”

      1. Eva*

        I’m the type of person that would have already queued up the draft email on my phone and hit send so I could reply “well, they already know now…”

        1. Magenta Sky*

          Given the mention of a long history of micromanaging and the implication of a pretty crappy workplace in general, I’m more the sort who would be talking in the past tense rather than future – they’d find out when I sent them a copy of the complaint already filed (and a copy of the law regarding retaliation, too).

      2. Jersey's mom*

        It’s good to see you back. I’ve always found your comments of interest, depth, value (and humor). Last I recall, (months ago) you had numerous personal concerns to care for. I hope that now you’ve have time to occasionally comment, it means things are resolved, or are at least in a holding pattern that gives you time to re-expand your horizons. Zen hugs.

        1. Snark*

          Thank you! I’ve been posting occasionally under Liet-Kinda since then, but I am who I am. And things are very resolved – new job, yay – and I am drinking from the fire hose much less often than I was for the first six months of it.

  24. Tessa Ryan*

    Wow. Would your boss be sharing their list of medications with you so you can judge if they are affecting their performance?

    Of course not. That shows how crazy this is. Your medications are the business of your doctor and yourself.

    1. 8DaysAWeek*

      “Will you be sharing your medications with us so we know if these asinine questions are a side effect?”

  25. Junior Dev*

    I worry that some co-workers will hand over the info, feeling like they have no choice, before OP can get to them.

    What a horrible, bigoted policy.

    1. Jenny*

      I would flat out report them without giving them warning. But this is probably due to my own personal experience from similar situations.

  26. Jenny*

    Not shocked at all. I used to work for a 12-person nonprofit owned by a husband and wife team who didn’t know anything about what they were doing and, in my mind, were unethical by supplying a disadvantaged population with far from superior quality services. As a social worker–taught to be highly ethical–it really irritated me and started to really get to me among other things like micromanaging and being paid even well below a social worker salary.

    I dunno if you can quit, but I up and quit on the spot one day. I actually gave two weeks, but due to their own hubris (they were very short-staffed), they told me to leave immediately. (In my state that is not considered termination by the employer.) But when I left there was so much stress taken off my shoulders. I work at another nonprofit now that pays me more and shows me much more respect.

    1. Jenny*

      Oh and the ceo, of a 12-person nonprofit, was being paid 3 times my salary–I was paid under $40k. Interesting.

  27. Shutdown and Out*

    OH HELL NO. I disagree with Allison on one point: This company’s employees need to band together and say this is illegal, and they’re not going to do it.

  28. Myka Bering*

    Ugh, just no. I’d definitely push back, OP. I recently found out that my company is now requiring new employees to sign a document stating that the company can have access to their full medical history. I thought then that it sounded like an ADA violation, but INAL, so I wasn’t positive. I’m guessing this falls under the same umbrella? I hope they don’t ask existing employees to also sign, because no way do they need my medical information (I’m also in a routine office desk job and don’t interact with the general public). We’ve already had one new hire quit over it and I’m giving the side eye to other new hires because they obviously signed it.

    1. Arctic*

      I wouldn’t side-eye anyone who signed it. People need jobs and some people are desperate for them.
      This is management doing something illegal, likely discriminatory (I have little doubt part of the reason is to keep people with chronic illness off the payroll/insurance), and morally wrong. Don’t judge the victims.

      1. LQ*

        Agreed. Side eye the people who thought this was a good idea and implemented it. Not the people who are looking for work and may have already quit a previous job not knowing how bonkers the new employer was going to be (because that’s not a policy you’d spell out ahead of time, you’d give that in the middle of data practices and insurance forms).

    2. Kimmybear*

      I work for a large for-profit that has enough HR people who should know better. I didn’t get my flu shot at work this year for this reason: the people giving the flu shot required you to sign up for the insurance company’s wellness program. That registration has you waive HIPPA rights so they can share your information with your employer including mental health and family planning info. I declined and the HR person I spoke with didn’t understand the problem.

      1. Jules the 3rd*

        That’s so not right! But you should be able to walk into a pharmacy / minute clinic and get a flu shot, usually for free. Pretty much every insurance carrier has ‘preventative care’ as free, and Target’s not going to make you sign up for someone else’s wellness program.

        1. nonegiven*

          If you’re worried about insurance costs, go to one of the drugstore clinics that is in network.

          That’s what I did. It cost the company just over $32 through our prescription benefit.

          DH went to his doctor’s office and it cost the company nearly $250 through our health insurance. The insurance discount was in the neighborhood of $20.

          Neither flu shot cost us a penny.

      2. Magenta Sky*

        Around here, you can go to pretty much any pharmacy to get your flu shot, fully covered by your insurance (they all take all major plans), generally with a pretty short wait.

        “Oh, I already got mine” should be sufficient answer for anyone.

        1. Kimmybear*

          I did end up getting it at the pharmacy. I just couldn’t believe that no one else read the fine print.

  29. Stephanie*

    Trying to understand the distinction. I’ve worked a lot in manufacturing and operations (but as a desk jockey who just goes out on re floor). I know the floor workers/drivers have to disclose medications, but usually via a medical exam (where a doctor says they’re ok to work) and they’re in safety-related jobs. Is that the distinction?

    1. Mike C.*

      The difference is that you’re being asked from the employer perspective, “are you taking anything that poses a safety risk, yes/no”. The doctors don’t generally tell the employers what is specifically being taken.

    2. Amber Rose*

      Yep. It’s basically like this: if you have a medication related side effect that may cause you to injure yourself or others in the course of your job (say, drowsiness that means you crash the forklift or stick your hand in the big scary machine or drop the heavy thing) then you need to disclose that.

      I prefer it if the desk jockeys also tell me so we can make a plan for them to not have to be out in the shop as much, in case they faint or something, but I can’t require it.

      I never need (or want) to know what you’re taking or why, just if your job could be affected or if you need clearance from a doctor.

    3. Arctic*

      The safety related exception. But in this case, doctors also usually don’t expose medical issues that don’t impact the job.
      It’s not just a broad “tell me what’s wrong with you” thing.

  30. Arctic*

    Wow, this is beyond absurd and I’m so sorry you have to deal with it. It’s also completely useless.
    I binge watched all six seasons of The Americans recently and I can tell you the side-effects are more severe for workplace conduct than any medication I’ve taken. I guarantee I’m thinking about The Americans during most meetings. Honestly, I’d rather be home watching The Americans right now.

  31. Faith*

    I’ve got to say, I’m so used to seeing Allison’s response being “This is a bad policy, but unfortunately it’s legal”, that it’s incredibly satisfying to see an unequivocal “No, this is not legal. They can go eff themselves”.

  32. Public Sector Manager*

    Alison, I’m thinking the OP doesn’t live in the U.S. because the OP used the expression “basic painkiller,” and over in the U.K. and Ireland, painkillers are aspirin/Tylenol.

    Maybe some of our European counterparts can let us know what the equivalent to the EEOC is over there to help the OP?

      1. Justme, the OG*

        Common term here in the US and we have the same kind of basic over the counter painkillers as much of the rest of the world.

    1. fposte*

      I’m not seeing anything about the basic painkiller sentence as indicating the UK myself, though; it seems a perfectly U.S.-reasonable locution and fact. (But of course she could still be from the UK–you can’t always tell.)

      1. Asenath*

        In Canada, “basic painkiller” would be used to mean any or all of the various OTC types available – aspirin, acetaminophen, naproxen, ibuprofen, maybe more I can’t remember right now – in all their brand names and formulations.

        Sometimes reading this column really cheers me up when I realize that there are absolutely awful workplaces out there, and I’m not in one of them! Lists of medications!! Honestly. The only time someone gets that out of me is if I’m visiting a new doctor or clinic. They have a valid reason for wanting to know what medications I am on.

        1. fposte*

          Yeah, that’s how I’d interpret it in the U.S., too. Those are the big four OTC here. We can’t even get Tylenol with Codeine OTC (I think you guys still have that).

          1. Common Welsh Green*

            Yep, we do. Also, if you’re under 24 or over 65 in Ontario, the Ontario Drug Benefit covers most of the cost of 4400 common prescription drugs. (Flu shots are free for everyone regardless of age.) If the drug you need isn’t covered you can also get help through the Exceptional Access Program. And the only people who ask you what you’re taking are medical practitioners who’d like to avoid accidentally killing you.

    2. Clodagh*

      I think the ‘expensive to insure’ comment implies pretty heavily that OP isn’t UK or Ireland based (although you can get private health insurance through your work and it’s more of a needed thing in Ireland than the UK (in my experience)). Also, what *is* Tylenol? An iboprofen? I must google it!

        1. nnn*

          Interesting, I (in Canada) think of those AND tylenol/aspirin as painkillers. Basically any pill you take that stops pain, regardless of the active ingredient or mechanism.

          Any idea why the US differentiates?

          1. Arctic*

            I’m sorry. I just meant those are the other common options here. I think most people would say generic painkillers in the context the OP used.
            It is true that people are more likely to use brand names but only because you don’t usually hear people talk about painkillers in this kind of context. You are more likely to hear “oh, do you want some Advil/Aspirin/whatever?” or “Oh, I have a headache I need some aspirin.” Like I have x problem and have y medication on hand.

          2. JustaTech*

            I’m from the US and I would lump all those together as “painkillers” or “OTC painkillers”. I mean, people generally have one they prefer over another (aspirin vs ibuprofen vs tylenol).

      1. Dr. Pepper*

        Advil? That’s what basic painkiller means to me: over the counter stuff like aspirin, tylenol, or advil. After that you’re getting into prescription painkillers, which is a different class. I assumed the OP was in the US because as we all know, health care and medication costs are especially fraught.

      2. RUKidding*

        Codene, Vicodin, Oxycontin…all prescriptions, not OTC.

        I am taking Tylenol with codeine right now (dental work) and while it’s a orescription, I consider it a basic painkiller.

        1. Miss Pantalones en Fuego*

          Interestingly you can buy a low strength version of that OTC here in the UK, though you have to ask a pharmacist for it. I took it for a couple of days a few years ago when I hurt myself at work.

          1. The Gollux (Not a Mere Device)*

            Also in Canada., where the low dose of codeine is available with either aspirin (ASA) or tylenol. The pharmacist will generally ask whether you’ve taken it before, what you’re taking it for, as well as any other medications you’re taking, so they can check for drug interactions. The difference is that it absolutely _is_ the pharmacist’s business what other medications a person is using.

          2. RUKidding*

            Can’t even get the low dise ones (i.e “Tylenol#2) without aRx here. I’m on #4s right now which they rarely prescribe (#3s being “default”). He offered me Vicodin 750s but…they make me paranoid. The 500s though…those are nice. :)

      3. nonegiven*

        A lot of people in the US, when they hear painkiller, think of codeine, oxycodone, hydrocodone, meperidine, not aspirin, acetaminophen, ibuprofen, naproxen.

        1. RUKidding*

          Yup. When I think “pain pill” I am definitely thinking Rx pills not OTC.

          We do keep Tylenol and Aleve in the house for minor stuff though. I think of those more as “damn this headache (note…NOT migraines) just won’t go away so I need a pill” pills.

          Even though they *are* painkillers, I just don’t think of them that way.

    3. Yinka Double Dare*

      Talking about “expensive to insure” in re: an employer is a virtual guarantee that this is the US. We’re pretty much the only idiots with this employer-tied health coverage/insurance system that would have costs in that fashion, no?

    4. Miss Pantalones en Fuego*

      Actually in the UK it would be paracetamol, not Tylenol. ;-) And I don’t think naproxen (Aleve) is sold without a prescription here.

      But I am American and I would use the term painkillers to describe any of the common OTC things you can buy. I think it’s a fairly universal term.

      1. Someone Else*

        You can get some naproxen OTC here in the US (as Aleve) but there is also prescription-strength naproxen, which is stronger and separate.

        1. Miss Pantalones en Fuego*

          Yeah I had my mom bring me a bottle of the regular strength stuff from the US. No idea why it isn’t sold OTC here.

  33. kristinyc*

    Wow, ridiculous!

    This could also be seen as a way to get people to disclose pregnancies/trying to conceive, which opens up a whole new level of potential discrimination. Like, if I had to submit this info, my work would know I take prenatal vitamins and a few other pregnancy specific meds. Some of them I started taking before I was even pregnant. There are tons of fertility treatments that people might be taking while they’re trying to conceive, and that’s definitely info most women might not want to share with their work.

    All my work really needs to know about my pregnancy is that I can’t lift heavy things, be exposed to chemicals, or maybe eat certain foods, (none of which would really affect my job) and that I’ll be out for a few months this spring. It doesn’t stop coworkers from asking all kinds of inappropriate questions, but the point is HR/my boss aren’t requiring me to report medical details.

    Curious if it’s in a state where medicinal marijuana is legal. Are they really just trying to see who’s using that?

    1. Dr. Pepper*

      They’d probably just drug test if that were the case. I don’t know exactly how it works, but employers often get discounts on workplace insurance if they comply with “drug free workplace” policies. Which basically means drug testing.

    2. ElspethGC*

      I’m an IVF baby, and my mum was on various medications related to fertility treatments for *years*. Her workplace knew about it (injecting medications in the bathroom tends to be something you want to warn people about in advance) but there are plenty of reasons why you wouldn’t want to tell your employers, especially if you suspect you’ll have to be doing this for a while before you get any sort of result.

    3. RUKidding*

      The marijuana thing occurred to me too. What about states like mine (Washington) where it’s legal period? Are they supposed to disclose because it’s a “drug” even though the state regulates more or less the same way they regulate alcohol? What *about* alcohol? Nicotine? Vaping? Alll “drugs.”

  34. London Engineer*

    This is absurd. And I say this as someone who is under similar requirements (at least when there is the potential of site visits). The only way to make this work (not necessarily legally as Alison has covered that and I’m in a different country…) is by checking that the following requirements are covered:
    -There is an actual safety need – on our end we may be in potentially dangerous environments where drowsiness or dizziness are serious risks
    -Immediate managers/colleagues don’t need to know the details, only if it will affect your wpork/accomodations are needed
    -The people who are informed/make the decision are under strict confidentiality requirements
    -You are not penalised for reporting

    I hope that you can avoid this – even if you don’t have HR is there anyone who deals with any sort of legal/compliance issues? They may have a better understanding of how much of a mess this is.

  35. Boredatwork*

    Let’s not forget to add in the follow up questions to ANY woman not currently on birth control – because you know boss is gonna wanna try to know if anyone is planning a family.

    I can totally see – “so Sharon, I see you’re 27, married and not on birth control – anything I should know?” being a question or Sharon getting “mysteriously” laid off.

    1. HRJ*

      Which would be particularly absurd because not taking a prescribed drug form of birth control =\= not using birth control.

    2. LQ*

      Or any woman ON birth control because you know then she might be having the s-e-x! (The sigh I made when reading this was so loud someone asked if I was ok. My response, “just the usual world on fire stuff.”)

    3. Jaz*

      And of course on the other side you have some employers who would consider it morally unacceptable for Sharon to be taking birth control (if she were married, because they think she should be reproducing, and if she were unmarried, because they feel she should be celibate).

      1. Boredatwork*

        Yep, I don’t think OP’s boss has even begun to think about the consequences of that question. Every time I read one of these posts, it just reinforces that I will never apply for a job at a NP.

        Frankly, it scares me away from even volunteering

        1. Observer*

          This has nothing to do with NPs. Keep in mind that most of the dysfunctional workplaces we’ve seen on this site are actually NOT non-profits.

    4. Magenta Sky*

      “Is there anything I should know?”

      “Yes, certainly. You should know that you just broke the law.”

    5. Jennifer Thneed*

      One common reason to not use birth control: you’re in a monogamous same-sex relationship.

  36. Liz T*

    How on earth does the director do *their* job at full capacity it they’re occupying themselves with this tripe?

  37. hbc*

    This whole thing looks like a (poorly written, over-)reaction to someone not getting their work done and blaming it on cold medicine. Or maybe they were about to fire someone for sleeping on the job and he pulled a last minute “but my meds” and they thought they didn’t have recourse.

    What a less intrusive workplace might mean by this is “Inform us if you will need a temporary alteration of duties due to medication (prescription or OTC.)”

    For what it’s worth, I would choose to interpret it in that way, and not disclose a darn thing. Or if I was feeling feisty and they’d made clear they really wanted disclosure, I’d print up everything I could find on the risks of anything I might get in the pharmacy section–iron-containing vitamins, fluoridated toothpaste, Tums, etc.. That should get them to clarify that they want to know stuff that is *likely* to cause problems, in which case they’ve given me cover not to disclose the more private stuff.

  38. 653-CXK*

    I see the three simultaneous red flags of HIPPA violation, PHI violation and PII violation flapping violently in this hurricane. If your director (if he can be called that) went through with this, your company would be paying serious fines for violating anything remotely regarding patient-doctor confidence.

    On your end: get your resume together and start looking. You don’t need to work for this Napoleonic piece of refuse.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      HIPAA doesn’t apply to (most) employers. And it’s not likely to be a PHI violation in the U.S.

      There’s plenty of other things wrong with it though.

      1. 653-CXK*

        I went back and re-read the article – yes, small businesses who don’t deal with PII or PHI wouldn’t fall under HIPPA…sorry about that!

        Coming from the healthcare arena, maintaining privacy was a Very Big Deal, so that’s where I was coming from in my response. But undeniably, whatever this director thinks he’s getting out of this would make anyone’s blood boil.

    2. fposte*

      I think there are some misconceptions here. There’s no HIPAA violation–that’s for health care providers, not just anybody with medical information. PII and PHI are kinds of data, not acts that you can have a violation of (PHI at a health care provider’s, for instance, is protected under HIPAA; there are about six different federal laws covering PII, but none of them seem to apply in this case). State laws about personal information may apply, though; states are sometimes stricter than the feds.

      Ultimately, the main breach here is of the ADA.

    3. Marenthius*

      This is illegal for all the reasons Alison noted above, but HIPPA, PHI, and PII all have to do with Heath care providers themselves disclosing info without your consent, not someone requesting it. Although if you gave your employer the info and they failed to keep it secure then that could open them up to violations of PHI/PII.

      1. 653-CXK*

        Agreed. A great example: if a new provider asked me for my past records from other doctors, it’s not a violation, but if this new provider disclosed my situations to others without permission, it is a violation.

  39. Eva*

    I mean, first off hell no on every level, and your best bet is exactly what Allison says.

    But I’d be tempted to reply with “any and all personal use of prescription and over the counter drugs is done through the recommendations and monitoring of my physician, who as a medical professional will keep my informed of anything I may need to know or any way I may need to change my routine. I will continue to trust my health care professionals with my health, thanks.”

    But here’s the big one OP: no matter what, NO MATTER WHAT, do not in any way, shape, or form breathe even a WORD of what you are taking, how much, that you are or aren’t taking anything.


    Do not say “I don’t want to talk to you about the medications I’m taking…” because that says you are taking some. Always be vague. Don’t say “I’ll talk to my doctor about my chronic illness” because that’s saying you have a chronic illness.

    This boss is not just insane, he’s ordering you to do something that is so blatantly illegal I have a hard time believing he doesn’t know it’s illegal and you cannot give him even a scrap of anything. Any and all responses should be vague as hell, admit nothing, and focus by far on the “this is illegal. I will not comply with doing something illegal.”

    Do not give them even a scrap of ammo.

    1. WellRed*

      It’s not illegal for the employee to disclose the medications. It’s illegal for the employer to ask. Big difference.

    2. Dr. Pepper*

      I’d be sorely tempted to reply, “And this is any of your business how……?” Complete with bitchy inquisitive stare.

      I do agree, don’t say anything at all about anything health or medication related. This boss/company clearly cannot be trusted with even the most basic of information, so give them nothing. Truly nothing. Whatever reason they’re doing this, it’s a terrible one and anything you say is likely to bite you in the butt.

    3. A person*

      You do not need to report your medications since it is illegal for them to ask – so you can tell them with a clean conscience there are no medications you need to report.

      Only you can decide whether you want to sit down directly with management to discuss/ rally your coworkers/ report it to the feds/ look for another job or whatever.

      But whatever you do, don’t tell them about your conditions or medications.

  40. Zona the Great*

    I wish I would have known this when I was a poorly-treated low level manager at a seasonal resort. We hired people from around the country and when they got here, we’d make them fill out a health questionnaire required disclosure of all health conditions and then we would make them get cleared by a doctor on their own dime. It was a terrible thing to do to people who traveled across the country for a minimum wage job.

  41. Vega*

    I wonder if there has been any movement on medical or recreational cannabis in OP’s location.

    I saw similar policies come into effect when recreational cannabis became legal in my jurisdiction. (I assume in an attempt to prevent after-the-fact claims that cannabis impairment was due to medical/therapeutic use.)

  42. 4Sina*

    I feel comfortable enough disclosing, and am used to having to be a self-advocate, my medical issues even at work when people ask. That said, I have ran the gamut of medications, having to try new things when one stops working, or when something flat-out makes things worse. I have been on medications that have made me fall asleep at my desk and that have induced manic dysphoric episodes (try working at your desk when it feels like there’s a sun trying to explode under your skin). Each time, I go back to my doctor and back to the drawing board. I can NOT imagine “having” to tell my boss about these prescriptions and side effects as if they were permanent parts of my routine. This is wildly illegal, disrespectful, and also just flat-out not representative of the reality of medication sometimes. A side effect that effects someone temporarily is not representative of their whole treatment.

    1. Elizabeth West*

      Very true–and with many conditions, including mental health issues and even high blood pressure, it can take a while to find the right medication for each person. Or the right dose. Once you’re on it, the situation can change drastically.

  43. nnn*

    Even if this were reasonable how would expect it to work logistically? For example, this past weekend, I had an unremarkable medical symptom that I don’t normally experience, so I went to the drugstore and got an unremarkable OTC medication that I’ve never taken before.

    Would they expect me to do paperwork on Monday? Then to do paperwork again if I don’t take the medication any more? How frequently do you have to take something to be considered a medication you “are using” in the present continuous, vs. something you “have used” in the past?

  44. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    I apologized this was already raised, but the ADA may not apply because OP’s employer is too small (covered employers need 25 employees).

    But this situation is so inappropriate that I would encourage a pushback en masse. And even if the ADA doesn’t apply, this sounds like a great torts lawsuit. The ED cannot just make shit up because they’re nosy and paranoid. If there are specific performance-related concerns, ED needs to grow up and have those convos.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Ugh, something is wrong with me! All my numbers are off today. Mea culpa :(

  45. JeanB in NC*

    I work at a small private school, and there is a section for medications & health concerns on the form. Would we be better off having a separate form for that info, and have the employee put it in a sealed envelope? That way we could just hand the paramedics (for example) the envelope and we wouldn’t be invading the privacy of the employee.

    1. fposte*

      Is this required? If so, suspect that the issues it poses won’t be solved by merely sealing it in an envelope; the requirement itself is unlikely to be legal even in a teaching position.

    2. That Girl From Quinn's House*

      I worked at a day camp that required all staff to have the same health form and medication permissions as the campers: if you needed medication, your doctor had to write out the same forms as the kids and you had to keep it in the nurse’s office, and get permission from the nurse to take it.

      I didn’t hand them any of my medication. I’m not begging the nurse for a puff off my inhaler during pollen season, sorry.

      1. saf*


        When I was a junior in high school, I was hit by a car, and out of school for a semester. When I went back, I was still on a number of meds. I simply didn’t tell them, and took care of my own stuff. If I had been caught, yes, they would have expelled me. But I was past caring at that point.

        1. Cathy Gale*

          That’s so ridiculous! Even with in loco parentis happening, you have a right to take prescribed medication. Expelling a student under 18 for “bad judgment” for not revealing all meds is overkill. It’s not like beating another kid or running a cheating ring, which should be considered serious enough for expelling.

        2. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

          Sophomore year in high school I broke my collarbone a month before school started. My parents and I looked into what it would take for me to be able to have my prescription painkillers at school (held by either the nurse or principal I think).

          Turned out, it was a lot easier to get me approved to go home for lunch every day and take my mid-day dose then. (Home, in this case, meant Mom’s office, which was right across the street.)

        3. That Girl From Quinn's House*

          I was in high school for part of the time I worked at that camp, and my *high school* had more liberal policies. You’d get a note from your doctor saying you needed X medication, and then a “carry permit” saying the doctor deemed it necessary and appropriate for you to carry your inhaler/epipen/whatever in your backpack instead of storing it in the nurses’s office.

    3. Teacher training teacher*

      You shouldn’t be asking for it at all. Change the form and stop invading your employees privacy. It’s illegal, inappropriate and unethical.

      1. JeanB in NC*

        You know, people read this blog and often find out things they don’t know. It’s not particularly helpful to use the kind of tone you’re using with someone who is trying to find out the right thing to do.

    4. blaise zamboni*

      I’m curious about this too. We don’t ask for medications, but my boss recently updated everyone’s emergency contact info, and on the form she asked “Are there any medical concerns we should be aware of during an emergency?” Honestly, that sounds like a pretty reasonable question to me–partly because I know that my boss is reasonable AND that the question was optional–but it sounds like it still violated the ADA. Is there any good, legal way to plan for your staff’s potential medical emergencies?

      The boss in this letter is obviously not reasonable and not trying to plan for medical emergencies, so to keep this relevant: a pox and many doses of must-be-disclosed Dayquil on them, pah!

      1. KR*

        I actually really like your bosses wording. That wording allows the employee to judge for themselves whether their bosses need to know if they have say, a seizure condition or they are diabetic or have a penicillin allergy that a paramedic would need to know about. If they don’t think it’s important or don’t want to disclose, then they wouldn’t.

  46. T*

    What the sh$t? This is nuts. Unless you are driving a forklift or handling hazardous materials they can’t make you disclose crap. This is a serious overstep and needs to be complained up the ladder if not to a state agency. You should only be disclosing medications if your workplace gives random drug tests, and it’s in your best interest to tell your tester what drugs you are on. The OPs case is a gross invasion of privacy.

  47. Llellayena*

    Based on the first sentence of the “policy”, it looks like the company is trying to crack down on addicts and ended up phrasing it in the exact wrong way. Someone addicted to OTC or prescription meds would probably have side effects that would affect the job. Someone high up may have encountered this with a friend or family member and is over-reacting to apply safeguards to this company. This does not change the advice to push back on the illegal language of the policy, but depending on how much influence the OP has, offering alternate means of countering prescription drug abuse might help. Support programs and addiction counselors work much better than “we’re going to yank your job and health insurance away and make it harder for you to get help.” The carrot rather than the stick…

  48. Aeon*

    I’ve dealt with requests like this before, but with many caveats: 1) this was part of the very extensive application process for employment at a government facility 2) the application involved a low-level security clearance 3) and this was for employees who worked in public safety positions. We regularly had to file doctors’ notes certifying that Innocuous Medication X Y or Z was not going to interfere with anyone’s functioning on the job. But I’ve never seen any requirements this stringent for private employers, and I agree that the request is both sketchy and probably made in bad faith.

  49. irene adler*

    Awfully tempting to simply state: “I take no drugs of any kind.”

    Let’s see them prove otherwise.

    Would they go so far as to require I take a drug test to prove my assertion?

  50. Kathlynn*

    pot recently became legal in Canada, and my employer pulled a similar issue. We are required to inform HR about any medications we take that might effect us, so that they can ensure we get our reasonable accommodations. This would be the same HR that told me my boss could require me to work in a room that caused me to almost pass out due to asthma triggers. “because I had been hired to do all jobs”.

    1. Canadian Union Rep*

      Yes, I was wondering if there was any chance the letter writer is in Canada. I work for a national union, and we have seen a lot of employers update their “fitness to work” policies in response to legalisation. Many of these updates are EXTREMELY poorly thought out and include this type of requirement. Employers are seeing information meant to apply to dangerous workplaces and not considering whether they can or should apply this advice to their own employees. In most cases it would almost certainly not be legal to require this information. Exceptions include safety-sensitive positions and when the employee is requesting an accommodation. If the OP is in Canada, s/he should contact the human rights tribunal in her jurisdiction (assuming s/he isn’t in a union).

    2. The Gollux (Not a Mere Device)*

      If they aren’t also demanding to know if you ever drink alcohol, I wouldn’t tell them about pot. Most people who use it aren’t doing so for medicinal reasons, and it’s now legal in Canada for any purpose.

      1. Kathlynn*

        I don’t smoke pot. But it was the reason they made that policy. It’s also clear that you cannot do pot at work or come to work high.

  51. janon*

    This opens a whole host of issues. I take a medicine that is traditionally used to treat high blood pressure. However, I take it to prevent migraines and actually have really healthy BP. I also take a few supplements that are traditionally used for heart conditions to prevent the migraines. If I had to disclose just medication, any assumptions made about my health history could be wrong, and if an employer is really awful, who knows what they would do about that. This is just all wrong.

    1. That Girl From Quinn's House*

      I take low-dose antidepressants for migraine control, so I share your same concern.

    2. Ama*

      I take hormonal birth control for something other than preventing pregnancy so I’m on this train, too.

    3. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

      I take low-dose blood pressure meds to treat ADHD, so add me to the list of people with the same concern. (Especially since my unmedicated BP is right in the middle of the normal range, so I’m now more likely to have problems with my BP dropping too low.)

      1. h2omel*

        I feel you here! I take an anti-seizure medication for my migraines…I can just imagine OPs boss hovering behind me waiting to see if I collapse in a fit!

  52. Geoffrey*

    I read this question with a lot of excitement, since we’d just run into this same issue – then my heart sank. Alison is of course correct about this being illegal under the ADA *for current employees*. If the employer was asking these questions during the interview process, it would also be illegal. But for some reason, as far as i can tell, the current state of the law (in the US) leaves a loophole between “a formal offer of employment” and “the start of employment” – so they are free to ask these questions as part of a pre-interview questionnaire. That’s the situation we’re in, and it is absolutely absurd to me that it’s legal (again, as far as i can tell). Not only that, but this medical information isn’t protected by HIPAA, since they are considered “employee records” rather than health records.

    I’m hoping and praying that someone has a correction that will make me feel better about the situation. It’s a fairly major employer in the area, so i don’t have high hopes about us somehow challenging this policy, but maybe someone else knows more.

    1. LQ*

      Does the law actually make a difference between those periods? The interview period would be all time before employment until you’re employed. If you can have the offer pulled and not be an employee then you’re still an interviewee. And once you’re getting paid you’re an employee? IANAL obviously. But that feels like splitting an impossible to split hair.

      1. Geoffrey*

        That’s what i would have thought, but i found multiple sources differentiating a “pre-employment questionnaire,” after a formal offer, from an interview. (i misspoke in my comment at least once.) The wild part to me is that a “formal offer of employment” is legally meaningless! It’s not a binding contract!

    2. LawBee*

      If you offered the job to me, and I said yes I will start on June 5, and then call on June 4 and say I don’t want the job, was I ever employed?

      Sounds like a Contracts law exam question. I doubt the intent of the law was to ever give any employer the right to ask those questions, and I would push to have those questions removed from the questionnaire. The worst way to find that out would be through a lawsuit – best not to ask to begin with, and live on solid ground that you’re not breaking the law.

      1. Geoffrey*

        The EEOC is fairly explicit about this, but that doesn’t make it any less strange…

        “The law allows an employer to condition a job offer on the applicant answering certain medical questions or successfully passing a medical exam, but only if all new employees in the same job have to answer the questions or take the exam.”

  53. jb*

    “if, and only if, the drugs may have side effects that could affect job performance.”

    In your estimation, none of the drugs you’re taking have such side effects, so no need to disclose anything.

    Regardless of what else you do, feel free to disclose nothing.

    1. The New Wanderer*

      Yes. The best path is to say this request is illegal. Even if it were legal, the only reasonable response is to say you are not taking any drugs that have side effects that affect your performance.

      They also seem to be conflating misuse/abuse of Rx and OTC drugs with correct use of Rx and OTC drugs that have some risks of side effects. No one’s presumably going to fess up to abusing drugs, so no one following their doctor’s advice should be discussing their prescriptions with anyone other than medical staff.

  54. Apollo Warbucks*

    I was the text from the boss as saying you only need to disclose it if there is a reason to. Such as being a driver and taking meds where the doctor advices agains driving.

    So I’d say the OP can file the email away and ignore it unless they need accommodation to keep working safely whilst talking their meds.

  55. Coder von Frankenstein*

    “I’m betting that this is the tip of the iceberg of mismanagement and possibly illegal behavior in your office, and I hope you’re actively trying to get out.”

    This times a billion. Get out get out get out*.

    *If you can–obviously, that’s not always possible.

  56. aa*

    This is the main reason why I don’t think I could ever live in the US.

    Oh, the joys of socialised medicine.

    1. AvonLady Barksdale*

      This has nothing to do with socialized medicine. This is ONE employer (ok, fine, probably more than one if we’re going to think about horror stories, but certainly far from the norm). Did anything about Alison’s response or this comment section lead you to believe that this is common in the US, or that it’s accepted here? Because… no. Not every situation requires, “I’m SO GLAD I don’t live in YOUR country.” I see that so much and it grates.

      1. aa*

        It has to do with socialised medicine in the sense that, because companies are not responsible for paying insurance, they are not interested in your potential illnesses or conditions.

        I understand that this situation is a rarity because it’s so extreme and brazen. I don’t think it’s that rare in milder, less overt forms, though.

        My more general point, however, is that socialised medicine means that you don’t worry about your medical history falling in the wrong hands – be it your company, your insurance company, or whover. The State does not discriminate based on your medical history.

        1. Kathleen_A*

          That’s assuming the employer is doing this in order to discriminate. And I really don’t think that’s the case, though it is of course possible. To me it sounds as though the employer has for some reason (someone in his cousin’s wife’s company failed to file a report and blamed his migraine medicine, someone got in an accident because their cold medicine made them sleepy, someone *almost* got into an accident because his cold medicine made him sleepy, etc.) got a bee in his little bonnet about people working “under the influence,” and decided this would be a “simple” way to decrease the chances of this happening at his company.

          It’s ridiculous, of course, but that’s what it sounds like to me. And while I truly envy the socialized medicine system, I don’t think it protects employees from having employers with bees in their little bonnets. :-)

          1. LCL*

            Yes, my experience has been micromanagers rarely have grand evil intentions. They have what they believe are good ideas, because moar data is always better, and are often surprised and a little hurt that people don’t see things their way.

          2. Indie*

            No, there are banana crackers employers everywhere…

            While there’s a bit less to worry about in a socialised system (I will never have to worry about having my boss consider me too expensive to insure) disability discriminition and guestimating the loss of sickdays DOES happen.

            Besides which, the likeliest scenario; that someone overdosed or misjudged themselves and the boss cannot cannot compute a) “shit happens that I don’t control” or b) ‘tackle individual incidents as they arise instead of lazybones en masse tantrums which ignore legalities’ could ABSOLUTELY happen here. At least where I am; the UK is not yet a utopia where the scourge of micromanaging has been eliminated.

        2. RUKidding*

          Nevertheless, Avon’s point that “I’m so GLAD…” can be offensive. You think that most of us wouldn’t prefer a better system? Moreover, even here in this *horrible* place…it’s illegal. As Alison pointed out.

        3. Observer*

          If you really think that socialized medicine means you don’t have to worry about who sees your medical information, I have a bridge to sell you.

          The reality is that there are many reasons a boss like this might be asking for this reason that have nothing to do with the cost of medical care. (None of the are good and legitimate reasons – they just are reasons that are not the cost of medical care.) And there are many ways and reasons why a person might be discriminated against because of their medical situation that has nothing to do with cost of medical treatment.

    2. MissDisplaced*

      Truly, most employers would never ask this.
      But there are a lot of small employers without proper HR that can and do try to get away with this crap OR think they’re exempt from it (and in truth with some things they are exempt).

    3. Bookartist*

      Yeah, we get it. Government-managed medical administration is awesome and we dont have it in the US unless you’re a vet. Enough already.

    4. DarlaMushrooms*

      Don’t you worry! Some employers still try this crap in Canada and other countries with socialised medicine.

  57. MissDisplaced*

    Unbelievable what some employers will try and get away with. HUGE overreach and invasion of privacy here. No way would I want my employer knowing about my meds.

  58. Mr. Bob Dobalina*

    OP, please start looking for a new job in earnest. This is not the kind of employer that you want–the kind that does blatantly illegal stuff.

  59. nora*

    The fact that I can see the higher-ups at my office considering this makes me really glad I have a promising interview coming up…

  60. aa*

    “And while I truly envy the socialized medicine system, I don’t think it protects employees from having employers with bees in their little bonnets. :-)”

    No, but at least they can’t get bees in their bonnets about your health. Which is one excuse less for them :)

      1. Someone Else*

        It’s illegal to do it here, but I think the argument was that sometimes the asking of these illegal questions is because the company has a financial incentive to know who is expensive to insure. If the company were not involved in the health insurance, they’d maybe be less likely to come up with this type of line of questioning. Although in this case, I think it’s just as likely someone did something they shouldn’t have and blamed a medication, and that’s what sent this crappy boss onto this path (meaning the problem has to do with liability insurance not health insurance). So in that case, it wouldn’t make a difference.

    1. Observer*

      Not really. This doesn’t sound like an attempt to control the cost of medical care or insurance.

  61. Linda*

    I remember when I had my FMLA approved because my mother had cancer. My supervisor was not allowed to ask me why I had FMLA, just that it had been approved. I ended up telling her myself because she was very supportive. So listing out all my medications prescription and OTC is a big no.

  62. RRrr*

    How has no one mentioned: if somebody’s on Truvada or the like, that’s forced HIV status exposure, which is hugely illegal except in particular circumstances

    1. That Girl From Quinn's House*

      And to throw a wrench into that: some people take Truvada preventatively, because they do not have HIV but are at risk for exposure and want to avoid contracting it.

  63. Enginerd*

    I’d be too tempted to just send in a monster lost with every drug and supplement I could find just to make that conversation so awkward they wouldn’t want to pull this again. Those weird make enhancement pills they sell at gas stations, 6 different kinds of fish oil, midol, Pepto bismal, Excedrin migraine, jock itch powder, athletes foot spray, a couple laxatives, daily vitamins etc. Just walk through the pharmacy and a GNC and write down everything. Then when they ask well I wanted to make sure I didn’t miss anything, my condition is quite complicated it’s called cardiodipshitmanagitis and you’ll have to consult my physician for the details. He’s a bit of a stickler for HIPA laws so have your medical license ready when you call him.

    1. DM Farmer*

      “cardiodipshitmanagitis” is my new “I don’t feel like working today, this is what I have” excuse :D

  64. TheItalianOne*

    From EU point of view of a long-time disable worker…NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOPPPPPPPPEEEE
    First thing first: who do OP employer think he is to ask about legally protected informations?
    Second….do i really need a second?
    If my employer tried that thing on me i would have gone directly to the union or whichever bureau takes care of such complaints in the USA and filed a claim without even thinking twice, but again Alison’s advice is the best as she indoubtly has the patience i lack xD.
    Keep us updated OP and don’t even think one minute that your health is to be put second compared to your job.
    I hope you’re gonna find a way out of that hellplace and get to score an employer with some grain of salt in their minds.

  65. Stephanie the Great*

    So my non-profit also has this policy. We’re quite a bit larger (~250 EEs when fully staffed), but we provide direct care services to a vulnerable population, and being on certain medications really could be a risk for the people we support, depending on the side effects. We don’t provide corrective action for folks who ARE on medications, we just need to know so we can modify their duties or put them in a different shift to ensure there isn’t a safety concern for the individuals. The laws in my state regarding care for this particular population are very intense, and so we are in the very small group of limited employers who can ask this question. And it is specifically around whether or not it will impede their ability to do their job. E.g., if you work an overnight, and you’re on a medication that causes drowsiness, we would want to move you to a shift where you are less likely to be alone with individuals, less likely to fall asleep, etc. The only time we would deliver corrective action is if you end up having a situation (like falling asleep while supporting an individual) due to the medication and you did not previously disclose it to us, and it results in an abuse investigation with the county.

      1. Stephanie the Great*

        Pretty certain! If you read the EEOC’s guidance on “Disability-Related Inquiries and Medical Examinations of Employees Under ADA,” it talks specifically about when an employee may be required to disclose use of medication that could impair their ability to perform job duties that would cause a risk to public safety. Given the population we work with, the potential risk of harm for the individuals we support and the general public are increased. We aren’t expecting everyone to disclose all their medications, however we do expect people to disclose when they are on a medication that could inhibit their ability to ensure health and safety of the individuals we support and/or the general public. It would also not be an offense we would terminate over unless it resulted in a substantiated abuse claim, or could have, if someone did not report it (which, if someone didn’t report it, that is a whole other discussion, since we are mandatory reporters).

    1. Observer*

      If you are actually following the policy as described above, you are asking for a law suit, because you are going well beyond what the law requires or allows.

      1. Stephanie the Great*

        In general, I would agree with you, but given the very specific population we support, we truly are in compliance with our state’s health and human services requirements to ensure safety of the population we support. I brought up my agency as an example of one of the very limited exceptions to the general law, not to argue about whether the policy is legal. This is policy language we have worked on with our attorneys (specializing in employment law), our quality assurance department (who ensures we are adhering to state requirements for licensure of our programs), and our contacts with the local agencies that oversee the care of this population. I am being purposefully vague for confidentiality reasons. You will just have to take my word on it! :)

    2. Someone Else*

      I’m not a lawyer, but my understanding is even when safety does come into play, I think what you’re allowed to ask is roughly “Are you on medications whose side effects interfere with performing your job duties safely?” (or even more specifically spelling out what said “interference” is and it’s basically a yes or no and you work out an accommodation which retains safety and takes them off the unsafe duty. I’m pretty sure even in the safety circumstance, you’re not allowed to say “tell us all your medications”. You’re not asking them to disclose the medications themselves. You’re asking them to disclose just that there is medication involved and what the unsafe side effect is. Or potentially as an alternative, you might give them a list of medications that would disqualifty them from a certain duty and ask them to certify they’re not on anything in the list. But you’re still not getting a person-by-person list of meds. That’s how I thought it was supposed to work anyway.

  66. DJ*

    Definitely worth seeking advice and then telling the other workers what you know.
    I wouldn’t recommend disclosing your meds or medical condition to such an employer. If it’s anything like AUSTRALIA your employer is then free to blab all to anyone about your medical condition even false information and you have no come back.
    A good employer doesn’t seek that information and keeps a little information as possible re employees medical conditions when they do need to be discussed for reasonable adjustments purposes

    1. Approval is optional*

      Your employer might want to read the Privacy Act 1988. The most stringent obligations under the act are in the area of what is called ‘Sensitive Information’ which, of course, includes information around health matters.

    2. Approval is optional*

      Also, the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner would be a good source of information, including information on how to make a enquiry/complaint, for any employee concerned with, or affected by, the employer’s potential violation of the Act.

  67. Jennifer Juniper*

    Don’t tell them a thing about what meds you’re taking. Follow Alison’s script and get out.

  68. Amelia Pond*

    I literally said “Oh HELL no!” outloud when I read the title of this. What in the world are they thinking?! I would start looking for a job ASAP, because this is so messed up I just can’t believe this is the only whacko thing they’ve done.

  69. ComeOn!*

    If you have 15 employees or more, are therefore covered under ADA, your boss increases her risk of an ADA lawsuit if she knows medications. She increases the risk of looking like she is making decisions about raises, promotion, etc based on protected health statuses. Just one more example of how this decision reeks of poor management. Not necessarily the most germane but the invasion of privacy side is well, and rightly covered, above. And yes, do not disclose!

  70. Indie*

    On the off chance you get dumb insistence and they double down, I’d be extremely tempted to play dumb myself: “I don’t know what medications affect performance because I am not a doctor. Does Aspirin count? I can email you every time I plan to take an Aspirin… How about mouthwash? I change my brand frequently and who knows what is in that stuff. Oooh cough syrup. I can let you know which BRANDS, but I dunno about the EFFECT of cough syrup, really.”

    Then, just keep mum. While job hunting.

  71. The Doctor*

    This is SO completely illegal that there’s no possible way for the employer to not know it’s illegal.

    Report the company to the EEOC ASAP (no threats, just action) and then start your job search. Good luck!

  72. Avalon Angel*

    I ended up leaving my management position years ago, because I could tell my productivity was down, my symptoms were getting out of control, people were noticing (and many thought I was drunk), and I worried I might not respond quickly enough (or would be in the bathroom AGAIN). I never told my bosses or co-workers why I actually left. At the time, I wasn’t “out” to many people in my life, even close friends. Just saying my diagnosis out loud to myself was difficult!

    All these years later, I wish I had given the company a chance to make accommodations. I wish I had felt more comfortable with my diagnosis and my abilities. I also wonder if I was exaggerating the amount of people who were becoming suspicious. I wish I had felt more confident, and that I could just say, “I have multiple sclerosis. How can we make this job work for me?” Or just “I have MS, and I think it’s best I stop working.” Anything other than putting in my resignation under the guise of wanting to spend more time with my children. But I wasn’t ready, and it’s not a process that can or should be rushed.

    I’m sharing this because I understand the LW. Had my company sent that directive, I would have panicked! No way would I have wanted my employers to know that information. And in those early days of diagnosis, I would not feel safe to disclose that information to my boss. Trying to get/keep a job whilst disabled is extremely difficult, especially if you’re in an at-will state. We often have to stay in the “placard closet” if we want to keep our jobs.

    So I urge the LW to do 2 things: 1) Follow Alison’s advice to treat it like a legal concern for the company, not for you personally, and B) Get involved in an online support forum ASAP. You will never learn the day-to-day ideas and information from a doctor. You’ll get it from your fellow warriors in the trenches.

    Final note: if you are in a state that has legalized medicinal and/or recreational marijuana use…I can’t help but think THAT is the information your bosses want to know.

  73. Hansella2z*

    Non-profits should have a board that the director reports to. The board chair & officers should be aware of this request & that the illegality could do damage to the organization.

  74. DM Farmer*

    Sorry, I need a moment while I look for my jaw in earth’s inner core.
    I would seriously consider asking what they’re smoking and if they’ll share with the rest of us.

  75. Anastasia Beaverhausen*

    Wow. I’m alarmed, and also think this could be especially harmful for those taking ADHD medications legitimately, as there is a lot of stigma around the condition and misinformation about stimulant medication being ‘legal meth’ (the irony being that those taking it probably experience improved overall performance). But I’d be worried if I was someone taking *any* mental health medication and this policy was put forward. Report them ASAP if they don’t back down.

  76. Observer*

    How often do we get indignant letter from people asking if something is illegal and the answer is that it’s legal. Here we have something that IS illegal- as it SHOULD be!

  77. Afiendishthingy*

    Omg I’m going to need an update on this one!!! My prediction: “Turns out the medication disclosure policy was just the tip of the yikesberg. I quit” (and hopefully “and I got a great new job that doesn’t violate employees’ rights”)

  78. Bella*

    Where I am currently living this is quite common.
    I just ask my employees to only disclose it if they feel comfortable and if it could impact job performance or if the hospital would be required to know if they had a medical emergency and could not communicate it themselves. Usually only people in safety sensitive positions disclose this information.

  79. SigneL*

    Sadly, I do not think employees can win this one. They may be able to get the director to back down on this issue, but my guess is, he will find any excuse to fire them. And I’m really sorry that they work for such a jerk.

  80. Lorelai*

    Ugh this is AWFUL. I’m so sorry OP!

    I wanted to just let you know I used Alison’s language above with a different (equally crazy) matter and got the response: It is not! It’s absolutely fine. I was so shocked I didn’t know how to respond.

    In case that happens to you, you may want to have a reply ready. I wish I would have said something defusing and factual… perhaps: I know! Lots of laws to keep track of- I happen to be a bit unusual in that I enjoy reading about these things. I’ll send you a link to the relevant laws, so you can take a look.

    Good luck OP!

  81. Lanon*

    Haha no. I have mental conditions I take medications for, and that I’m very careful to not let affect my work life. None of my coworkers know to avoid stigma and being treated differently. Like hell I’m just gonna tell my boss “Yeah so I’m autistic and have OCD so I take these” how about no.

  82. Joe in Frederick*

    Since she’s way more professional than I am, you really gotta work hard to get Alison to call something “batshit insane” in a public forum. This absolutely qualifies.

  83. cartoonybear*

    I’m confused about this though, because there ARE some situations where you have to be drug tested even when it has nothing to do with your job–ALL employees are tested (e.g. an investment bank I worked for, where I was NOT anywhere near money, or client data, or proprietary info or PII of any kind). Also my current job w/ a security clearance–you get tested. Now, your BOSS doesn’t get to know any of it–it goes through a third party company–but you have to tell them what you take.

  84. NoCleverName*

    Is this a stand-alone policy or part of a larger drug-free workplace policy?

    IANAL, but in Ohio, this is similar language to what we have as part of a state-wide Drug Free Work Place policy that is administered through our Bureau of Workers’ Compensation. However, our policy does not require that the name of the medication is disclosed.

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