This is a tough post for me to make.
As I’ve mentioned on this board, I’m struggling with bipolar disorder type 2. I am holding down a job and actually doing well at the mechanics of it–by which I mean I’m getting work done in a timely and effective manner–but there are certain other problems at work which I’m not handling well. My doctor and my therapist, having worked with me for over a year, are both of the opinion that the problems I’m having at work are a major barrier to the improvement of my mental health, and both of them have strongly recommended that I either seek employment elsewhere or take a major leave of medical absence–something on the order of three months.
So I’m currently applying and interviewing for other positions, including one which seems promising. But the process has been mentally draining (for those of you who’ve been through a job search, imagine if every setback left you suicidal and every success sent you on a manic what-if about the job) and if the two I’m working on don’t pan out I’m going to be in a pretty bad state. Add to that some increasing mental pressures at my current job and dealing with the last days of a close family member, and I’m not sure I’ll be mentally healthy enough to continue working here until I get some serious treatment. My wife has suggested that I combine my doctor’s suggestions: I take a leave of absence from work, and use that time to apply and interview for other positions. When I suggested this to my doctor, he strongly advised against it. Firstly, he felt that the point of taking the leave was to get my mind off of work, which is a point I concede.
But secondly, he argued that being on medical leave would be bad for my job search. He contended that other employers would find out that I was on medical leave (even if under HIPAA they wouldn’t be able to find out what it was for) and that might discourage a potential employer from hiring me. I was surprised to hear about that because I didn’t know that HR departments could actually tell a different company, “Oh, Person X works here but they’re currently on medical leave”–I was under the impression they couldn’t tell another company about their leave or sick time history. (I’m sure a reference could but I would hardly be so stupid as to pick a reference who would blurt out that kind of info.)
So the question is–and I put this in IMHO instead of General Questions because I’m not sure if there’s a solid answer–are HR departments allowed or obligated to tell a prospective employer that an employee is currently on medical leave?