“Do I have to tell my new employer about my hepatitis B?”
After years of cautiously completing medical forms for schools, camps and college, my daughter’s question took me by surprise. It shouldn’t have. Many jobs—even when they don’t involve direct medical care—require a physical exam and confirmation of hepatitis B immunization.
There may be a safe and effective vaccine and new treatments for hepatitis B, but ignorance and stigma remain stubbornly entrenched in many HR departments. So here is what every job applicant, employee and employer should know about hepatitis B and employment.
During the application process or job interview, can an employer ask about my health?No. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) strictly limits what can be asked during an interview. According to federal law, an employer can’t ask if you have a disability (such as hepatitis B) or require you to undergo a medical exam before offering you a job.
They CAN ask if you can perform the job (can you lift 50 pounds if you’re applying for a warehouse job) or how you would perform a job, but they can’t ask about your health.
Can an employer require a medical exam or ask medical questions after an offer is made?
Yes. After the offer is made, employers can require you to answer certain medical questions (such as immunization coverage) and undergo a medical exam—as long as everyone who performs that job has to undergo the same exam.
If the medical exam reveals a disability that prevents you from doing the job, even after a “reasonable accommodation” is made, then the employer can withdraw the job offer.
Can an employer withdraw a job offer after they learn I have hepatitis B? No, because the majority of people with hepatitis B are healthy, productive and able to perform their jobs. Unless you have severe liver disease, hepatitis B does not impair your ability to be a teacher, nurse, doctor or home health aide.
If your hepatitis B status is made known as a result of a blood test or exam, that information should go no farther than the human resources department. Federal law requires employers to keep all medical records and information confidential and in separate files.
What if they say my hepatitis B poses a threat to clients, coworkers or patients?
There is no medical basis for that fear. The U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have determined that hepatitis B-infected nurses, doctors, dentists and other providers do not pose a threat to patients. If they say it does, send them these reports (see below). Call or email us if you need help.
The U.S. Department of Justice’s warning letter to medical, dental, nursing and other allied health programs to stop discrimination against applicants with hepatitis B. The letter can also be found online at: http://www.hhs.gov/ocr/office/hep-b-letter.pdf
And Updated CDC Recommendations for the Management of Hepatitis B Virus–Infected Health-Care Providers and Students is found at: http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/pdf/rr/rr6103.pdf
What can I do if I feel I’ve been discriminated against?
You can file an ADA complaint against a state or local government or any business by mail or e-mail. For more information click here. You can also file a complaint by email and if you have questions about filing an ADA complaint, call the ADA Information Line at 800-514-0301.