CHICAGO (NewsNation Now) — With relaxed mask mandates rolling out across the country, the focus is now on whether a person is vaccinated. Are businesses allowed to ask about your vaccination status? What about your employer?
A New York healthcare attorney said it doesn’t violate the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) for most businesses to inquire about vaccination status because the law applies strictly to healthcare providers and related industries— for example, hospitals, doctors, insurance companies and billing agencies.
“Other types of entities, like restaurants, like this law firm, like the grocery store, are not HIPAA-covered entities under the HIPAA law and their actions are generally not governed by HIPAA,” explained healthcare attorney Maureen McGlynn with CCB Law in Syracuse.
Similarly, employers are bound by privacy restrictions but those may not cover COVID-19 vaccination status, reported NewsNation affiliate WSYR.
“Under anti-discrimination laws, you cannot ask employees about their medical conditions, and asking whether they’ve been vaccinated is not a medical-related inquiry,” said employment lawyer Laura Spring with CCB Law in Syracuse.
Vaccine status or requiring vaccines for employment eligibility is determined by federal and state regulations and exemptions.
“If someone has a medical disability or they have a religious preference, then the employer is under an obligation to see if they can accommodate that issue,” Spring told WSYR.
Kristin White, a workplace safety attorney at law firm Fisher & Phillips LLP, in Denver, Colorado, believes employers should request workers to show proof of vaccination and said that many don’t realize they are legally permitted to do so.
“The honor system carries more risk,” said White, who has been advising companies on masks during the pandemic.
Interrogating workers on why they are or aren’t wearing masks raises privacy concerns.
“Some of those employees may be wearing a mask because they have a disability and they can’t get vaccinated; someone may be wearing a mask that is vaccinated but they feel more comfortable wearing a mask,” White said.
White is recommending that her clients have a written policy for employees to not ask their peers why they’re wearing a face covering. She also says that workers should be trained not to tell on each other.
With the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) relaxing mask mandates for vaccinated individuals, and no sure-fire way to assess who is vaccinated, inquiring about inoculation status extends beyond professional and business settings to social settings as well.
To respect privacy and avoid offending others, an Ohio medical expert says de-escalating the topic from one of a political, or value-based nature is the first step, reported NewsNation affiliate WCMH.
“If you don’t want to get vaccinated, and you’re not going to get vaccinated, that’s your choice but own that, and be honest about it,” encouraged Dr. Iahn Gonsenhauser with the Ohio State Wexner Medical Center.
“Personally, I think we should be very comfortable with (asking). I think it’s something that we can all be doing just to help each other feel more comfortable and help mitigate any risk,” Dr. Gonsenhauser told WCMH.
“We either need to know what the risk is and be able to mitigate it through knowledge and awareness,” said Dr. Gonsenhauser. “Or, if we’re not going to have that ability, then we just need to continue to require masking in some situations. If we want (masks) to go away, we have to be able to have an open conversation and respond appropriately.”