Q: I work for a clinic. They are telling us we have to get vaccinated for COVID to keep our jobs. Is that legal? Is that a violation HIPAA?
Montana, Killen, AL
A: Because Alabama passed a law that addresses this, it may not be legal at this point in time in Alabama. Hospitals and other healthcare organizations have long required their employees to be vaccinated against various diseases they are virtually certain to come in contact with such as tuberculosis.
Public schools will not allow children to attend classes who are not vaccinated according to state standards. The Alabama law or executive order has not yet been tested. It may or may not be valid.
If the new law is valid, then employers in Alabama will not be able to make hiring or firing decisions based on someone’s COVID vaccination status. I do think that healthcare employers can legally require their workers to be vaccinated against certain illnesses simply because they have been doing so for so long.
None of this has anything to do with the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, also known as HIPAA. HIPAA does prohibit a person’s health information from being shared without their knowledge or consent. The law only applies to health-related entities such as healthcare providers and health insurance providers. It’s not really a prohibition on asking; it’s a prohibition against sharing. This means if your best friend tells someone about your health condition, it’s not a violation of HIPAA.
Under federal law there are very few situations in which businesses, airlines, schools and even those covered by HIPAA are prohibited from asking you to share your vaccination status or show your vaccine record card.
It is important to be mindful of state laws. It does not violate federal law to ask someone their vaccination status. However, if the state law says you can’t ask, then employers are likely to be governed by that state law.
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