Unions Reach Settlement In Lawsuit Charging USPS With Intrusions Into Employees Medical Records


The APWU and National Association of Letters Carriers (NALC) reached a settlement [PDF] with the Postal Service on May 20, 2010, ending a 2008 lawsuit in which the unions charged the USPS with “systematic and widespread intrusions” into members’ medical records. The settlement requires the Postal Service, agents of the USPS Office of Inspector General (OIG), and officers of the Postal Inspection Service to provide specific documentation to healthcare providers when they request medical information about postal employees.

In accordance with the agreement, the Postal Service and its agents must present a “HIPAA letter” to healthcare providers before asking them to disclose any health information about employees. The letter must include a description of the information sought and a statement demonstrating how it is relevant to a legitimate law enforcement inquiry. The letter also must instruct healthcare providers to provide only information that is relevant to the investigation of the employee’s alleged violations of law.

HIPAA is the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, which protects the security of health data. The law outlines rigorous rules for safeguarding the privacy of medical records, but permits healthcare providers to disclose information to law enforcement officers and “health oversight” agencies without patient consent for legitimate law enforcement purposes and other activities authorized by law.

In accordance with HIPAA rules, the letter requesting medical information instructs healthcare providers to refrain from notifying employees of the disclosure of their records for a period of 30 days, unless OIG agents or Postal Inspection Service officers request a longer period.

The settlement addresses two major concerns that prompted the lawsuit: The alleged intimidation of healthcare providers by OIG agents and Postal Inspectors, who frequently demanded employees’ medical records without explanation, and the indefinite prohibition against healthcare providers notifying postal employees about the disclosure of their records.

“The OIG can no longer violate employees’ rights by using police state tactics when conducting sick-leave or workers compensation investigations,” said APWU President William Burrus. “The obligation to provide details about a request — instead of demanding access to private records — prevents the OIG from abusing its power when investigating routine personnel matters.”

3 thoughts on “Unions Reach Settlement In Lawsuit Charging USPS With Intrusions Into Employees Medical Records

  1. Ester’s experience of intimidation and harassment for simply using her rightfully earned benefits is heartbreaking, just completely disgusting. It sounds like the Postal Service I’ve gotten to know over the last five years in my little idiot office in Eastsound, WA.

    It’s abusive treatment such as what Ester describes, and the monumental and torturous task of pursuing justice, usually denied, that leaves workers vulnerable to health and mental health issues, and costs the service even more money.

  2. I am on FMLA approved leave for 2 1/2 months. I have submitted all the necessary documents to our medical unit and the FMLA office. I faxed my doctor’s note to the supervisor that contained only the information that she is entitled to know. The supervisor has sent me three certified letters threatening me with AWOL if I do not provide her with the specific medical information that she needed. She even sent me two Form 3971s marked AWOL for me to sign.
    Because I refused to provide the supervisor with my prognosis, she sent two OIGs to my house. I live in a secured area where residents are the only ones who can legally open the gates. The OIGs contacted my HOA to ask for my address because they claimed that they are “concerned about my welfare” and they want to know if I was OK.
    The OIGs presented me with a paper entitiled Kalkine Rights that says if I refuse to participate, I may be subjected to discipline and/or termination. I asked for a copy of the paper that they told me to sign but they said that I have to request it from Labor Relations.
    I was still under medication from my medical procedure so I did not have any control over my action. They asked me why I was not at work even though I already told them that I have an approved FMLA condition. They asked to see my FMLA documentation and any medical documentation that I had. At the time, I felt obligated to show them all my private medical information because I was not in my proper mind. They made copies of my documents. They interrogated me for two hours regarding the prescription drugs and dosage that I was taking and many more questions that I do not remember.
    I told them since the beginning that this was harassment and that they were making my condition worse but they continued with their interrogation anyway. I remembered crying a lot during the interrogation. Before they left, they told me that I need to call them when I am going back to work. They threatened me that if they do not hear from me, they will be knocking on my door again.


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