It is common for companies to send their employees, especially newly hired staff, for medical check-ups, to ensure they are medically suitable to carry out the assigned jobs.

When employees are sent for such check-ups, they often have no choice but to consent to the disclosure of the full results of the medical examination to the employer, thus exposing very private and privileged information.

An employee, even if completely healthy, will raise eyebrows should he refuse to have the examination results disclosed in order to protect his medical history, and may not get the job.

When I inquired with the Ministry of Health (MOH) on this issue, I was told “that the patient must consent for his personal medical information to be released to external parties” and that “should an employee not consent to the release of pre-employment medical report to the employer, we will not be able to comment on whether that may impact the employment opportunity”.

The Personal Data Protection Act does not apply to employees. Thus, the employer may receive sensitive information on an employee which, in most cases, is none of his business.

Is it necessary for an employer to know, for example, the blood count, body mass index, drinking habits, medication prescribed or pregnancy status of an office employee?

A medical certificate does not mention the reasons for the leave granted, to protect the employee. An employer has no right to ask the doctor for details of the sickness.

In contrast, an employer gets a full, intricate view of an employee’s health status by sending him for a medical examination.

Going forward, employees should have the option to either opt out of such examinations, unless required by law or for job safety, or limit the information passed on to the employer to a minimum.

An employer is interested to know only if the employee is fit for the job. That should be the only message divulged by the examining doctor to an employer. All other test results should remain with the clinic and the employee.

I urge the Ministry of Manpower, MOH and the Singapore Medical Association to cooperate in order to address this issue and develop a workable framework.

Gil Simon Schneider (Dr)