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Can my Employer Ask Why I Take a Certain Medication?

Nurse Beth   (160 Views 1 Comments)
by Nurse Beth Nurse Beth, MSN (Advice Column) Writer Innovator Expert

Nurse Beth has 30 years experience as a MSN and specializes in Med Surg, Tele, ICU, Ortho.

15 Followers; 91 Articles; 229,598 Profile Views; 1,890 Posts

Dear Nurse Beth,

I quit the nursing field a couple years ago, and I am very happy about it and have never looked back. One of the MANY reasons I quit is that over the years, employers have been given the green light to delve into applicants’ private information - information they don’t need to know in order to hire someone.

The power given to employers to snoop into job candidates’ and employees’ personal lives has increased substantially over the years. It is sickening. My question has to do with something that happened a couple of years ago that I’ve always wondered whether or not this employer broke the law. I got hired as a private duty nurse for this nursing agency. In the paperwork, they asked what medications I was taking, and if I’m remembering correctly, if any of them were controlled substances.

I answered yes, gave them the name of the medication, the prescription #, and the pharmacy phone number so they could call and verify that it was indeed a prescription (the medication did show up in a drug/swab test, which I told them it would.) They verified all the information, which I felt uncomfortable giving to them, but I did. Then, they asked WHY I was taking this medication and I felt this information was NONE OF THEIR BUSINESS, and I told them this.

For this reason, I decided not to work for this place and immediately quit. Was it legal for them to ask why I was taking a particular medication?

Dear Quit,

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (ECOC) typically protects employees from disclosing what prescription medications they take. This is to prevent you from discrimination based on a medical condition.

However, requiring a drug screen is legal for safety-sensitive occupations. Some medications can directly affect your job performance. You can be asked to submit a current prescription for a drug that is positive in your drug  screen.

There's a gray area around if they can ask you why you are taking the medication. It seems that intent comes into play, what they do with the information, when they ask it (pre-offer or post-offer) and if it affects your job offer.

Let's say you have a herniated disc incurred from an earlier injury, but passed your physical and can do the job. Your drug screen comes back positive for muscle relaxers.

In a  post-job offer situation, asking the medical reason for taking the muscle relaxer could be allowed. For example, an employer may be within their rights to know that you have a herniated disc from a previous injury. If you further injure your back while on the job, they can then be relieved of some of the cost of your medical care. This actually also helps employees with medical conditions/disabilities, as it encourages employers to hire employees with pre-existing medical conditions.

They do need  to keep your medical information in a separate file. 

But if they were to then withdraw the offer because of your disclosed medical condition, that could be discrimination.

In your case, they did not withdraw the job offer, you quit, so chances are it was not illegal.

Maybe the most important thing I can tell you is, I'm not an attorney. This is my understanding from experience as a hiring nurse manager and living in California. For a precise answer to your question, contact an employment attorney in your state.

Best wishes, 

Nurse Beth

Author, "Your Last Nursing Class: How to Land Your First Nursing Job"...and your next!

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