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Confidentiality and COVID-19: Balancing Protection and Privacy

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to force workers and businesses around the planet, many owners hesitate about their responsibility to keep staffers safe while protecting workers health information. It is necessary to balance employees right to keep their medical information private.

Employee privacy rights

Employers know a workers medical information is confidential and work diligently to make sure it remains private. But the balance between privacy and offering a safe work atmosphere, which is United States Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations need, many mean working carefully to offer required detail during the pandemic without being too specific.

What can you ask? Who can you tell?

If workers call in sick, the U.S Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has offered guidelines for businesses on what detail they can request from staffers.

Usually employers cannot request personal health information from workers. Anyway, during  this pandemic, employers now may ask workers who call in sick if they are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, adding:

  • Chills
  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Shortness of breath

Addressing the rumor mill

The challenge will be to balance privacy against protection. Once the word spreads that someone is either symptomatic or verified with COVID-19, rumors will start to circulate. When workers come to you for verification, tell them just what is permitted: medical information of a suspected or confirmed case, without the employees name.

Managing concerns

Workers will have worry if a colleague has been diagnosed or is symptomatic of COVID-19. Your next work will have to keep the worry from developing into a panic. Ensure the reinforce safe work practices - frequent hand washing, distancing, and sanitizing surfaces.

Remind workers they should stay home if they are feeling sick and send them home if they report to work sick. While concerns are legitimate, it is vital to remind staff to remain relax and work cooperatively to save themselves and each other.

All healthcare staff have a duty of confidentiality

Confidentiality: NHS Code of Practice Supplementary Guidance on Public Interest Disclosures PDF , 112KB , 16 pages This file may not be suitable for users of assistive technology.

PSQIA establishes a voluntary reporting system to enhance the data available to assess and resolve patient safety and health care quality issues.

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