Coronavirus Vaccination: Does HIPAA Apply to Employers?

Posted by Alesha Struthers Jul 14, 20210 Comments

The coronavirus vaccination is now available, a lot of questions and misinformation surrounding HIPAA law and employers exists. It is important for employers to understand what HIPAA is, how it applies to employers, and whether they can require their employees to receive the coronavirus vaccination. Those are the topics employers will learn about in this blog post.

If you're an employer in Washington state and you have questions about the coronavirus vaccination or other employment law issues or HR issues after reading this blog post, schedule your free consultation with The Law Offices of Alesha Struthers!

This post is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not a substitute for legal advice. For legal advice, please schedule a consultation.

Coronavirus Vaccinations Are Available: Will We Return to Normal?

Now that the coronavirus vaccinations are available, the big question that we all have, including Washington employers, is whether we will return to normal. Some scientific studies state that for the coronavirus vaccination to be most effective in helping the United States reach herd immunity, around 70% of the US population must receive the vaccine.

The CDC has reduced the restrictions on those who have completed their coronavirus vaccination so that they may begin to enjoy activities without masks or with more people as we did before the pandemic. Many cities have removed their mask mandates. They've left the responsibility of wearing a mask up to individuals as well as businesses.

The vaccine certainly has the potential to help our nation return to some degree of normal. However, many do not wish to receive the vaccine (as well as some people who are not able to take the vaccine for medical or religious reasons).

What Is HIPAA?

HIPAA is an acronym that means Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996. It is a federal law designed to protect the health information of the patient and stop it from being disclosed with the patient's consent. While it covers many things, it is about the privacy of information related to the health and well-being of a person.

Does HIPAA Apply to Employers?

If you've been on social media at all since the coronavirus vaccination became available, you may have noticed that the information proffered is that an employee's HIPAA vaccination status cannot be requested by their employer because HIPAA applies to employers.

However, this isn't the case. Covered entities under HIPAA include healthcare providers, health plans, healthcare clearinghouses, and a business associate that would use the health information to provide a service for one of those other covered entities.  

Related: Coronavirus, ADA, & Employees: What Can Employers Ask? 

Can an Employer Mandate the COVID Vaccine?

One of the most common questions asked is whether an employer can mandate their employees to receive the vaccine. The EEOC states under K.1 within their EEO overview that “EEO laws do not prevent an employer from requiring all employees physically entering the workplace to be vaccinated for COVID-19, subject to the reasonable accommodation provisions of Title VII and the ADA and the EEO considerations discussed below.”

However, the section also states that an employer may not mandate a coronavirus vaccine in a way that would treat an employee differently based on disability, religion, color, disability, sex, pregnancy, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, age, or genetic information unless there is a legitimate and nondiscriminatory reason for requiring it.

Employers: Schedule Your Consultation Now

HIPAA law and how it relates to employers can be confusing. It is critical for Washington employers to not only understand how it works but to appropriately apply it to their business. The coronavirus vaccine quickly changes the landscape of how a business operates. With so much misinformation provided through social media, it's no wonder employees and employers alike may not truly understand what is and isn't allowed under both federal and state law.

If you're an employer in Washington state, The Law Offices of Alesha Struthers is ready to help you understand your obligations and rights according to federal and state law. Schedule your free consultation now!

Disclaimer: This publication is not legal advice. It is intended as legal information only. For legal advice specific to your needs, contact the Law Offices of Alesha Struthers, PS at 800-972-0411.

Posted July 2021