Is Asking About Covid Vaccination a HIPAA Violation?

Should we return to a mask free workplace.? Now we are using the honor system to determine who should be wearing a mask. It is contingent upon vaccination. But we are being discouraged from carrying our vaccination cards or wearing any identification that says we are vaccinated. Are we violating HIPAA if we disclose our vaccination status? Or ask for patient/employee vaccination status?

HIPAA is one of the most misunderstood health laws in the country. The acronym for Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 has a lot of confusion associated with it. The original legislation was meant to insure health insurance for people between jobs. In 2003, the Privacy Rule was implemented with HIPAA to protect individuals’ personal health information and medical records. The amendment was intended to do two things:

  1. Ensure people have access to their own medical information.
  2. Determine who has access to medical information without consent.

Who can have access:  a. healthcare providers (physicians, hospitals, clinics, pharmacies; b. healthcare plans or health insurance; c. healthcare billing companies or clearing houses. No one else can access your information without your consent.

What HIPAA cannot or does not do:

It does not protect medical information that is shared by a patient. It does not say that you have personal protection from having to disclose your medical information. It does not specify a list of medical information and all situations it may have to be disclosed.

Can your employer ask about vaccinations? Yes. Can the business or restaurant or airline ask about vaccinations? Yes. You are not compelled to answer but that answer may come with a cost. You may not be able to board the plane or enter your workplace without a mask.

Kayte Spector-Bagdady, lawyer and bioethicist at the Center of Bioethics and Social Science at the University of Michigan and Assistant Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology says “People often feel like HIPAA protects them from being asked about their medical information, or prohibits other people from asking about their medical information. Neither is true. HIPAA prohibits health professionals, from sharing your identified health information without your permission in most circumstances. People can always ask about your health information and you can almost always decline to answer. But not answering health questions might come at a cost.”

Employers are legally permitted to ask for a copy of their employees’ vaccine card. Some health facilities have drawn the line in the sand that if health professionals do not get the vaccine, they will no longer offer them employment.  The guidelines are changing rapidly, and the CDC and OSHA frequently update their websites with current announcements. The mask rules are still undefined and conflicting. The risk is less to err on the side of caution. Patients can claim they contracted Covid because the employees were not wearing masks. It would be difficult to prove but engaging with any attorney firm is an expensive and time consuming task.

Where are we in this journey back to normalcy? Has your employer asked for your Covid Vaccination Card?


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