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Employment Law/Employee Prescriptions


Hello Sir

Is it legal for an HR rep to be given access to employee records as to what type of medications they are on?  Access is granted by third party company that processes the presecriptions.  Sole purpose of access is to identify employees with serious medical conditions and set them up for terminations.

Is this actually allowed?  If not, who should it be reported to?

thank you


Disclosure of medical records is generally governed by a Federal statute, known as HIPAA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act), administered by the US Department of Health and Human Services.  More information is available at this HHS website:

HIPAA covers a number of areas, one of which is privacy of individually identifiable health information.  The rules are fairly complex and my practice does not include advising my employer on HIPAA applicability, so I am not a HIPAA expert.  However, I do know a few basics.  An employer's HR personnel can be covered by the HIPAA privacy rules, but only if they are performing work for the employer acting in the capacity of Plan Administrator of a health care benefit plan.  If an HR manager is working only in the capacity of the company's general HR operations, then he or she is not covered by HIPAA's privacy rules.

The prescription drug provider is almost certainly covered, however.  Whether the provider has the legal right to disclose to the employer information relating to individual employees' medications depends on (1) the provisions of consent form you probably were asked to sign when enrolling in the prescription drug or health care benefit plan, and (2) whether the disclosure complies with those provisions.  

I'm afraid that is the limit of my knowledge of HIPAA, but if you believe your information is being disclosed improperly, you can get information here on how to file a complaint:

That is not the end of the story, however.  If your employer is in fact taking actions to terminate employees because they have serious medical conditions, this would almost certainly be a violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA).  It is unlawful to take negative employment actions against an employee who is covered by the ADA based on that employee's covered disability.  The following is pasted from a guide published by the EEOC, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which has primary responsibility to enforce the ADA:

"A covered disability is a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity. The ADA also protects you if you have a history of such a disability, or if an employer believes that you have such a disability, even if you don't.

To be protected under the ADA, you must have, have a record of, or be regarded as having a substantial, as opposed to a minor, impairment. A substantial impairment is one that significantly limits or restricts a major life activity such as hearing, seeing, speaking, walking, breathing, performing manual tasks, caring for oneself, learning or working.

If you have a disability, you must also be qualified to perform the essential functions or duties of a job, with or without reasonable accommodation, in order to be protected from job discrimination by the ADA. This means two things. First, you must satisfy the employer's requirements for the job, such as education, employment experience, skills or licenses. Second, you must be able to perform the essential functions of the job with or without reasonable accommodation. Essential functions are the fundamental job duties that you must be able to perform on your own or with the help of a reasonable accommodation. An employer cannot refuse to hire you because your disability prevents you from performing duties that are not essential to the job."

(The document from which this was copied is available here:)

It is not as difficult as it once was for a person to be deemed covered by the ADA, as Congress expanded the definitions in amendments to the ADA which took effect in 2009.  

If you believe your employer is terminating or otherwise discriminating against employees due to their medical conditions, I would urge you to contact the nearest office of the EEOC and speak with someone there about the situation.  The EEOC has the power to investigate claims of violations of the ADA, and an employer is legally prohibited from retaliation against anyone who makes a claim or participates in an investigation.  You can get information on where the nearest EEOC office is here:

I hope you find this helpful.

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Frank C. Magill


I can answer questions about any U.S. labor or employment law question. I cannot answer questions about non-US law. I am not a specialist in employee benefit law (ERISA and HIPAA) or Workers' Compensation law, but will do my best to point questioners toward good resources availabe online. Expertise includes, without limitation, EEO/Affirmative Action/Employment discrimination (Title VII, Age Discrimination in Employment Act, Americans With Disabilities Act, GINA, Fair Credit Reporting Act as applied to employment); Fair Labor Standards Act; Texas labor code; Family Medical Leave Act; employee compensation; discipline and dismissal; force reductions, severance pay programs and administration; collective bargaining, union representation, grievances and arbitration, National Labor Relations Act and National Labor Relations Board; employee handbooks; staffing; dispute resolution outside of traditional labor agreements; employee communications; employment policies and compliance programs; codes of ethics; employment or labor litigation.


30+ years experience as corporate counsel for a Fortune 100 telecom company, specializing in labor and employment law issues. In addition to providing day-to-day advice to my company's internal HR leadership and staff, I've represented the company in numerous labor arbitration cases and at the bargaining table.

Texas, Illinois and Missouri state bars

J.D. 1979, Harvard Law School. B.A., Summa Cum Laude, 1976, Illinois Wesleyan University.

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