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Psychiatric Records Off-Limits in Certain Investigations

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in Compensation and Benefits,Human Resources

When a Florida employee seeks workers' compensation, your organization doesn't have unlimited access to his or her medical information to challenge that request.

Specifically, you can't snoop through an employee's psychiatric records unless the person relies on medical ailments as the basis of his or her claim. That's the case even though many mental illnesses can show similar symptoms to physical problems.

Recent case: John Bandorf claimed he suffered from "sick-building syndrome" and he sued his employer for workers' comp benefits. He told the court that mold, toxic substances and chemicals in the building had caused his fatigue.

Reasoning that some mental condition might be causing those same symptoms, his employer demanded access to Bandorf's psychiatric records. The Florida Court of Appeals turned down its request, citing patient-psychiatrist privilege. Since Bandorf hadn't placed his mental or emotional condition at issue, he could claim the privilege.

The court relied on specific wording in Florida law: The patient-psychiatric privilege is waived only if "the patient relies upon" a mental condition as part of his claim. Merely alleging fatigue isn't enough. (Bandorf v. Volusia County Department of Corrections, No. 1D06-0579, Florida Court of Appeals, 2006)

Final tip: You can ask the claimant under oath whether he has a mental disorder. You just can't access his records. 

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