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    Updated November 24, 2010    
    
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Settlement reached on medical records

Follows union lawsuit to stop coercion when investigators seek information; tougher restrictions for OIG agents, postal inspectors

  M-01733 (May 20, 2010): Settlement agreement with the Postal Service and the USPS Office of Inspector General (OIG) that imposes significant new restrictions on OIG agents and postal inspectors when they seek to obtain confidential medical information about employees from the employees’ doctors or other personal health care providers.

The NALC has entered into a settlement agreement with the Postal Service and the USPS Office of Inspector General (OIG) that imposes significant new restrictions on OIG agents and postal inspectors when they seek to obtain confidential medical information about employees from the employees’ doctors or other personal health care providers.

The settlement follows months of intense negotiations by the parties’ attorneys under the supervision of a U.S. magistrate judge.

NALC President Fred Rolando, who participated in the negotiations, said he was extremely pleased with the final outcome.

"The restrictions imposed by this settlement should prevent OIG agents from intimidating and coercing doctors and other providers who would otherwise choose to maintain the confidentiality of sensitive information," Rolando said. "Even more significantly, the settlement will ensure that union advocates can prevent the Postal Service from using improperly obtained information as evidence against employees in arbitration cases."

As previously reported (NALC Bulletin 08-01), the NALC and APWU filed a joint lawsuit against the Postal Service and OIG in January 2008 in federal court in New York City, seeking to stop OIG agents from obtaining confidential medical information about employees without their knowledge or consent during the course of investigations of alleged workers compensation or sick leave fraud.

NALC had discovered incidents in which health care providers were intimidated by OIG agents into turning over medical information about employees which had no relevance to any legitimate investigation of alleged misconduct.

The settlement agreement, which goes into effect 60 days after execution, recognizes that under federal law, OIG agents and postal inspectors may, under certain circumstances, seek to obtain relevant information from an employee’s health care provider without the employee’s consent as part of a legitimate investigation of suspected fraud or other misconduct. However, the agreement requires OIG agents and postal inspectors, before interviewing an employee’s health care provider, to give the health care provider a form letter, negotiated by the parties, that explicitly states that the health care provider “is not required to speak” about the employee’s health information to the agent or inspector.

The letter also tells the health care provider that he or she "may take as much time as necessary" to decide whether to discuss the employee’s health information and may consult with whomever he or she chooses (other than the employee) in making that decision. The letter also requires the agent or inspector to identify, in writing, the specific information sought and to provide a written explanation of how that information is relevant and material to a legitimate law enforcement investigation.

The settlement further provides that any information obtained from a health care provider without complying with the stated requirements may not be used by the Postal Service for any purpose, including discipline or discharge of the employee, and will not be admissible as evidence in any arbitration involving the discharge or discipline of the employee.


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