Asking about vaccination status: HIPAA violation or not?


ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — The COVID-19 vaccine has been widely accessible for some time now. As a result, you may notice some businesses now require full vaccination for customers. SUNY schools and many private colleges, are requiring it as well.

Now for the trending question on social media and beyond everyone is trying to answer: is it a violation of HIPAA to ask someone if they’ve been vaccinated? Many have been wondering specifically about restaurants, retail stores, grocery stores or employers.

HIPAA stands for Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. Under HIPAA, information from your doctor is private.

Rochester Attorney James Philippone says a violation of HIPAA might be someone calling up your doctor and asking for information without your authorization.

“Your medical information is private it cannot be given out by anyone that you do not authorize,” Philippone said. But asking a question is not a violation – It gives you the choice of disclosing an answer or not.

“You have the right to say, ‘I’m not going to answer that question, that’s my right,” he said.

But businesses also have a right to decline business with you if they don’t like your answer.

“If it’s a matter of public health, the courts and governments, federal state and local have all said, ‘look, this is a question of public health,'” said Philippone.

Your employers could ask you to take a COVID test or even get a vaccine – with the reasoning for keeping you safe.

And if you decline?

“The boss has the right to say, ‘we will try to accommodate you so you can work from another location or work from home,'” he said.

And if accommodation isn’t feasible – they’re within their rights to terminate you.

It’s unlikely you will be asked this question regularly. Some restaurants News 8 talked to say they don’t have enough staff to check vaccination at the door. They’re instead keeping mask mandates in place. Others, using an honor system.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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