Medical Privacy: How Much Does My Boss Need to Know?

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Medical Privacy: How Much Does My Boss Need to Know?

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I need to take time off for surgery for a medical condition that I want to keep private. I can get  Family and Medical Leave Act time off, but when I apply for it, does my employer need to know about my condition?

In a word, no. You do not have to disclose your diagnosis to your employer when you take medical leave.

Both California and federal laws restrict the information the employer can obtain about your medical condition. The California Family Rights Act (CFRA) certification for your “serious health condition” need only state:

▶ The date the condition started;
▶ The probable duration; and,
▶ The fact that you are unable to work.

Your employer may not contact your doctor directly for additional information.

Second and Third Opinions

If the employer doubts the validity of the medical certification, you may be required to see another doctor for a second opinion at company expense. If the two contradict each other, you could be sent to a third doctor also at company expense. The third opinion is final and binding.

The Wrong Paperwork

Sometimes California employers mistakenly use the FMLA form, which does ask for the "medical facts" supporting the certification. If this happens to you, obtain the CFRA Certification of Heath Care Provider form at pdf/code_regulations.pdf and submit the completed paperwork to your employer.   

Amy Semmel is a partner with the firm Donfeld, Kelley & Rollman, where her practice focuses on employment law. She can be reached at The information discussed here is a general explanation of the law, and is not intended to serve as legal advice. Readers requiring legal advice regarding a specific situation should consult an employment attorney.

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