Ask the expert: Mandatory flu shots, mask-wearing policies, and HIPAA

By: February 9th, 2012 Email This Post Print This Post

Here’s a different take on healthcare worker mandatory flu shot policies requiring either immunization or wearing a mask during patient contact. Whether such a policy would be a HIPAA violation was addressed in HCPro’s Compliance Monitor, February 8.

Q: Our healthcare facility is requiring employees to get the flu shot or they will have to wear a mask when within 6 feet of patients. Is this not a violation of employee or patient privacy?

A. The Privacy Rule only protects the privacy of patient, not employees. Requiring non-vaccinated employees to wear a respiratory mask to protect the health of patients does not violate the patient’s privacy and may prevent the spread of infection.

Editor’s note: Mary D. Brandt, MBA, RHIA, CHE, CHPS, vice president of HIM at Scott & White Healthcare in Temple, TX answered this question in the February issue of Briefings on HIPAA. Brandt is a nationally recognized expert on patient privacy, information security, and regulatory compliance, and her publications provided some of the basis for HIPAA’s privacy regulations.






I am an occupational health nurse that has not been assigned an office with a door, I work in a cubicle open to many others. Is there any way to convince my administration that the confidentiality of my phone calls and employee visits dealing with return to work, injuries, and their medical records requires privacy? Does the privacy rule apply in this case since employees are my patients?

Our hospital mandates non-vaccinated employees to wear mask at all times, except in the cafeteria and lunch rooms. Reasons- protection of patients and vaccinated employees. For those who have no patient contact but have to wear a mask is a daily pain. Is there a rule says that non-vaccinated employees have to wear a mask all day for the protection of the vaccinated co-workers?

I feel like it is a violation of my HIPAA rights. It requires me to disclose to the patients & my co-workers that I am unable to receive the vaccine & that is why I have to wear a mask. My facility goes so far as to make us wear large buttons that say yes I got it or no I didn’t. Just because I am a Nurse does not mean it is everyone’s right to know whether or not I got a flu shot.

This response is absolutely ridiculous. We can’t require employees to wear stickers that indicate if they have AIDS or not… because that would be a violation of privacy.
The Flu Mask and stickers are just a way of bullying people to get infected with the Flu Shot

If the flu shot is offered to me, I am the patient. When i go to the doctor’s office for the specific reason of getting my flu shot, I am registered as a patient. Same if I opt to get the shot from my employer (who happens to be a hospital). If I take it, I am registered as a patient. If I opt not to, I sign a form…as a patient. Therefore, it is absolutely my right as a patient for the facility that I declined the shot to not broadcast what treatments I have accepted or declined. This includes requiring facilities other than my employer to verify if I have had the shot or not. Basically, as a patient, medical treatments are protected health information. My employer can not require me to announce whether or not I have had the flu shot no more than they can announce the same for an inpatient (who was registered in the exact same system).

Agree! It is not anyone’s business if I did not get the flu vaccine!. I should not be required to wear a mask or anything else that says or insinuates that I did not get the vaccine. It is true, I don’t advertise whether I had my annual exam or if I am up to date on my Tdap. As a nurse I use good handwashing technique and cover my cough, if I had one. I have worked in the Ed for several years and most positive flu cases I have seen have been more often than not patients that were vaccinated. I don’t think I should have to put anything in to my body that I don’t want to

Our hospital has just implemented this policy of unvaccinated employees being made to wear masks at work. Like previous comments have pointed out, the only ones in my office that get the flu are the vaccinated employees yet they won’t have to wear a mask. It’s a bully tactic and I resent it. I was out of the country for 18 years and since coming back I can see how unfree we are in America. The government would like you to believe we are the most free country in the world but we aren’t. I wondered how so many rights have been eroded and this flu vaccine policy is a point in case how they push, push, push until you give in. Sad!

My hospital will administer the Flu vaccine or you can go to your own provider but you need to bring in proof. I always chose to go to my provider and bring proof. The Hospital makes me wear a sticker stating “ I got my Flu Vaccine, Did you?”. Since the Hospital didn’t administer my vaccine, isnt this a HIPPA VIOLATION? Why do I need to advertise whether or not I got any vaccines? I chose to keep what I do private.

When I am asked or take the flu shot, I then become a patient. If I have an adverse reaction to the shot hopefully someone will be watching. Thus, by my declining the flu shot, you are violating my hiipa rights by forcing me to wear masks at all times before patients. Especially children, who are already scared, and I come in with a mask. You see their fear rise. Just some thoughts.

Except that medical facility staff are EMPLOYEES, and are also protected by HIPAA from their EMPLOYERS. So, perhaps rethink that one.

Any employee getting a flu shot is a patient in the context of getting a flu shot. The flu shot is a medical procedure, so it absolutely is a HIPAA violation for an employer to even ask about an employee’s medical procedure. This should be challenged.


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