by Kevin Powers, Esq.
If you read Ohio’s Public Records Act, R.C. 149.43, you see that it starts out with a very broad definition of “public record”: “…ANY record that is kept by ANY public office…” The statute then goes on to define nearly two dozen exceptions.
One such exception is medical records. Medical records could include things like the Family Medical Leave paperwork you had to submit in order to be eligible for leave. It could also include doctors’ notes you are required to submit when using sick leave.
But what if you are sent for a medical or psychological evaluation by your employer who suspects you of being unfit for duty? Does the doctor’s report in such cases constitute a medical record? According to Ohio courts, the answer is “no”. Such records are public records that your employer must disclose to anyone requesting them.
In State ex rel Toledo Blade v. Telb, the newspaper was investigating a Sheriff’s deputy and requested his personnel file. Based on what was provided the newspaper learned that the Sheriff had sent the deputy for psychological evaluations but the reports from the psychologists had not been disclosed with the Sheriff arguing that they were medical records exempt from disclosure.
The court looked at the statutory definition of medical records as “...any document… that pertains to the medical history, diagnosis prognosis or medical condition of a patient that is generated and maintained in the process of medical treatment.”
Here the court reasoned that the psychological reports were not generated in the process of medical treatment and must be disclosed. While this decision was a common pleas court ruling, it has been cited with approval and followed by higher courts including the Ohio Supreme Court. See, State ex rel. Strothers v. Wertheim.
In State ex rel. Multimedia v. Snowden the Ohio Supreme Court determined that pre-hire psychological evaluations are public records. Presumably, the results of pre-hire and fit for-duty medical examinations are available to the public.
So armed with this knowledge what can you do if you are ordered to submit to a medical/psychiatric evaluation? Most medical doctors would instinctively believe that whatever report they send to the employer would remain confidential. You should explain to the doctor that such reports are in fact public records and ask that he/she use discretion on what is put into the report.