The responsibilities of employers under HIPAA and COVID-19

While HIPAA only applies to covered entities and business associates, other employers can use its guidelines when implementing employee COVID-19 testing and monitoring symptoms.

Some employers require employees to undergo COVID-19 tests or to have their temperature taken on-site prior to working. Despite the fact HIPAA doesn’t apply to this type of health information, employers should adhere to HIPAA-like steps and carefully document their activities to protect themselves.

While employers are not specifically covered by HIPAA, it does provide best practices that companies generally use when keeping personal health information about staff, Starkman said. It should be kept under lock and key, in separate folders from personnel files, and removing medical collections from credit report HIPAA.

Those covered by other laws may have to handle employee health information if they are non-covered entities. Employers must keep employee medical records in accordance with the ADA. In terms of keeping computer documents and files under lock and key, they follow HIPAA requirements.

For guidance on handling employee information in the COVID-19 pandemic, Rutter said employers should consult the ADA and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Using COVID-19 testing and monitoring procedures, he said, every business should follow these three steps:

Make sure all policies and procedures are documented.

Employee information should only be available to trained employees.

Implement protocols in response to unauthorized access or data breaches.

Employers without coverage must also take proactive steps, Rutter said. “Taking steps is key.

A violation of HIPAA occurs when an employee accesses data he or she is not authorized to access. Put in place authorization systems that require employees to confirm their identities before they are granted access to sensitive information. 

Create these systems. The procedures and policies around authorizing access to information and the consequences for obtaining it fraudulently should be clear.

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