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Rail Labor wins 8-year fight to protect employee medical privacy at BNSF

INDEPENDENCE, Ohio, April 2 — Rail Labor has successfully worked together to protect the privacy of its members after a recent legal victory at the BNSF Railway, which forced the carrier to change its return to work medical reporting requirements.

Since 2012, BLET and all of the other unions at BNSF have been trying to get the carrier to change its medical leave of absence and return to work policies, which the unions contended violated the members’ rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Rail Labor’s efforts included the filing of EEOC charges and a federal court lawsuit. After years of dispute, Rail Labor has reached a settlement agreement with BNSF that better protects the members’ rights.

Specifically, BNSF used to require that when employees were away from work on a Medical Leave of Absence for any reason, they could not return without filling out a long, detailed form which required that they and their doctors provide medical information about illnesses or injuries beyond the specific reason the employees missed work. For example, the old forms required employees to authorize a blanket release of all of medical records to the carrier, and that they and their doctors provide a list of all medications being taken, even those that were unrelated to the need for leave.

In the settlement agreement the attorneys negotiated, BNSF has agreed to restrict the information employees need to provide upon their return to work from a medical leave of absence to only the specific information relating to the reason they were off work and only as necessary to determine their fitness for duty. In addition, the carrier agreed to limit the reasons for which employees would have to fill out the long form to one of the specific conditions listed. An employee who is out on a medical leave of absence for any other reason now simply has to fill out a short form verifying he can return to work without restrictions.

“We pursued the litigation because we know that while the members’ health and safety at work is vital, the privacy of their personal medical information is equally important,” BLET National President Dennis R. Pierce said. “This resolution with BNSF affords greater protection of our members’ private health care information.”

Unions that were a party to the settlement include: American Train Dispatchers Association, Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes Division, Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen, International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers District Lodge 19, International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers–Mechanical Division, International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers–Transportation Division, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers–System Council 16, National Conference of Firemen & Oilers District of Local 32BJ–SEIU, and the Transportation Communications Union/IAM.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

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