Business of Medicine
Disclosing Employee Vaccination Status FAQ
Whether or not an employee has been vaccinated against COVID-19 is confidential medical information. Understanding what cannot be shared is important as patients and employees inquire about the vaccination status of others.
- Store employee vaccination information in a confidential human resources file or employee health file.
- Confirm that there is a reasonable basis for suspecting an employee lied about their vaccination status before disciplining or terminating their employment and apply the actions taken consistently to each employee.
- Redirect employees away from debates over vaccinations to focus on their job duties.
With more healthcare organizations mandating COVID-19 vaccination of its workforce, either by choice or because of state and federal mandates, organization leaders have been faced with various questions about what they can and cannot say about an employee’s vaccination status. Understanding what cannot be shared is important as more patients and employees inquire about vaccination status. Below are some of the most common questions healthcare organizations have reported and corresponding regulatory implications that can impact answers.
If employees are asking about other employees’ vaccination status, can healthcare organizations share that information?
No. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has made it clear that vaccination status is confidential medical information under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Additional state laws may also afford protections against disclosing vaccination status.
If vaccination status is confidential, can healthcare organizations ask employees for their vaccination status or for proof of vaccination status?
Yes. While vaccination status is confidential medical information, healthcare organizations can ask employees about their vaccination status and they may also ask employees to provide documentation of vaccination. This information must be kept confidential and stored in a human resources file or employee health file. Generally, any collection of vaccination status should be performed through human resources or other centralized personnel who will maintain this information in a confidential manner.
Can healthcare organizations discipline or terminate employees who lie about their vaccination status or provide fraudulent vaccine documentation?
Yes. As with other serious misrepresentations made by an employee to an employer or a patient, healthcare organizations are permitted to discipline or terminate employees that lie about their COVID-19 vaccination status or provide fake or altered COVID-19 vaccination documentation. Additionally, employees who provide forged COVID-19 vaccine documentation may be guilty of a federal crime according to the FBI.
Healthcare organizations that choose to have employees self-report their vaccination status instead of requiring proof should make the consequences of misrepresentation clear and have employees attest to their vaccination status in writing. Before disciplining or terminating an employee suspected of lying about their vaccination status, healthcare organizations should confirm that there is a reasonable objective basis for the suspicion and that the actions taken are applied consistently to each employee to avoid any unlawful discrimination claims.
Can healthcare organizations require employees to wear a sticker that indicates they have received the COVID-19 vaccine?
No. Because vaccination status is confidential medical information, employers should not require employees to publicly disclose vaccination status on a sticker or otherwise. Requiring either vaccinated or unvaccinated employees to wear a sticker or badge indicating their vaccination status would effectively be an involuntary disclosure of an employee’s vaccination status by the employer. However, employees are free to voluntarily disclose their own vaccination status by wearing a sticker or by any other means they choose.
What should healthcare organizations do if an employee refuses to work with individuals who are not vaccinated?
Explain to the employee that vaccination status is confidential and cannot be discussed. Instead, focus on highlighting various safety measures that the organization has implemented to ensure proper personal protective equipment, social distancing and other compliance with local, state and federal workplace safety standards.
What should healthcare organizations do if an employee voluntarily shares that they are not vaccinated?
Employees often self-disclose their vaccination status without being asked. If that occurs, managers should avoid asking questions, including asking why the employee is unvaccinated.
What should healthcare organizations do if employees engage in debate over COVID-19 vaccination status?
Avoid debates over vaccinations. If an employee engages in this type of dialogue, redirect them to focus on their job duties. Avoid any comments that may be perceived as threatening the employee.
If patients ask to be treated by a vaccinated provider only, do healthcare organizations have to comply?
No. Explain to the patient that vaccination status is confidential employee medical information that cannot be shared. Instead, healthcare organizations may share aggregate data about employee vaccination rates or other information about the organization’s vaccination policies and safety measures implemented to keep patients safe. For example, organizations may want to provide patients with information about mandatory vaccination policies that have been implemented. Or, it may be helpful to explain to patients that the organization collected vaccination status from employees and provide the patient with the percentage of employees who are fully vaccinated.
What if an employee wants to voluntarily disclose their vaccination status to encourage patients to seek them out for treatment?
While healthcare organizations cannot disclose an employee’s vaccination status, employees are free to voluntarily disclose their vaccination status to patients. The key is to remember that managers should not disclose an employee’s vaccination status or engage in conduct that would coerce an employee to share this confidential medical information. There may be protected reasons, including religious or medical, that prohibit someone from being vaccinated for COVID-19. Employers must be careful to avoid unintentionally asking questions about medical conditions or religious beliefs unless permitted under the law.
- Although an employer may not disclose an employee’s vaccination status to others, employers are allowed to ask for employee vaccination status and proof of vaccination.
- Employees are free to voluntarily disclose their vaccination status to other staff and patients.
Although relatively infrequent, employers risk violations under the Americans with Disabilities Act for disclosing employee vaccination status, which could result in costly damages. An employee may also file a lawsuit for tort liability for invasion of privacy or disclosure of private facts.
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The information provided in this resource does not constitute legal, medical or any other professional advice, nor does it establish a standard of care. This resource has been created as an aid to you in your practice. The ultimate decision on how to use the information provided rests solely with you, the PolicyOwner.