WASHINGTON – The Office of Civil Rights (OCR) of the US Department of Health and Human Services said Thursday that the confidentiality rule of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act 1996 (HIPAA) does not apply to employers or employment records.
This means that companies are not infringing on the privacy of their employees by asking them to disclose their COVID-19 vaccination status.
The OCR guide aims to help “common workplace scenarios and answer questions about the application and how the HIPAA privacy rule applies.” This information will be useful to the public as we continue to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, âaccording to an HHS press release.
“We are publishing this guide to help consumers, businesses and healthcare entities understand when HIPAA applies to COVID-19 vaccination status disclosures and to make sure they have the information they need. to make informed decisions about protecting yourself and others from COVID-19, “said Lisa Pino, director of OCR.
FILE – In this photo, it is the COVID-19 vaccination record used in the United States.
The vaccine requirements issued by the company amid an ongoing and deadly pandemic have been a point of contention for many workers, resulting in mass layoffs, protests and workers leaving their jobs.
Some have argued that requiring workers to disclose their immunization status violates HIPAA law, but this has proven to be wrong time and time again.
Margaret Riley, a law professor at the University of Virginia, told FOX Business that “companies are free to make whatever rules they want to protect their other customers and employees. A company that can have employees or customers particularly vulnerable may choose to apply more stringent rules, including requiring proof of vaccination.
For months, companies have encouraged workers to get vaccinated, in some cases offering incentives such as time off or gift cards. But more and more are taking a tougher stance and demanding vaccinations for any remaining holdouts, a push that has gathered momentum since Pfizer’s vaccine recently received full approval from the State Food and Drug Administration. -United.
President Joe Biden announced sweeping federal vaccine requirements earlier this month, affecting up to 100 million Americans in a total effort to increase COVID-19 vaccinations and curb the rise in delta variant.
The extended rules require all employers with more than 100 workers to require them to be vaccinated or tested for the virus every week, affecting an estimated 80 million Americans. And the roughly 17 million workers in healthcare facilities who receive federal Medicare or Medicaid will also need to be fully immunized.
Biden also signed an executive order requiring the vaccination of executive and contractor employees who do business with the federal government – without the ability to test. This covers several million additional workers.
The obligation for large companies to require vaccinations or weekly tests for employees will be enacted by an upcoming Occupational Safety and Health Administration rule that provides for penalties of $ 14,000 per violation, an official said. ‘administration. The White House did not immediately say when it would take effect, but said workers would have enough time to get vaccinated.
Employers “feel like they’ve sort of reached the point where the unvaccinated won’t do it unless there is something important that prompts them to do it,” Wade said. Symons, Partner of Mercer, an employee benefits consultant.
It is legal for companies to require the shots, and they could fire employees who do not comply. In other cases, workers could be required to wear masks or undergo regular tests for the virus. Some companies are also considering charging more for health insurance for the unvaccinated.
At Delta Air Lines, employees not vaccinated on the company’s health plan will be billed $ 200 per month to help cover the costs of possible COVID-19 hospital stays.
United Airlines, meanwhile, said nearly half of the employees who have been fired for refusing to be vaccinated against COVID-19 have received their vaccines.
This reduces the number of airline workers threatened with layoff from 593 to 320. A spokesperson for the airline, Leslie Scott, said the drop in the number of potential layoffs shows that the company’s policy of demanding vaccinations work.
âIn less than 48 hours, the number of unvaccinated employees who began the process of separating the company was almost halved,â Scott added.
In a note obtained by FOX TV Stations, the company wrote that more than 99% of its 90,000+ employees have been vaccinated.
About 212.6 million people, or 64% of the total adult US population, have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, according to the latest CDC data.
“Our top priority remains the first and second shot. Overall, more than three in four eligible Americans – Americans 12 and older – have received at least their first shot,” said Jeffrey Zients, the COVID coordinator. -19 from the White House, in a briefing Tuesday.
About a dozen states have immunization mandates covering healthcare workers in hospitals, long-term care facilities, or both. Some allow exemptions for medical or religious reasons, but these employees are often required to undergo regular COVID-19 testing.
States that have established such requirements tend to already have high vaccination rates. The highest rates are concentrated in the Northeast, the lowest in the South and Midwest.
The Associated Press and Austin Williams contributed to this report.