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What Health Information Can Employers Require From Their Workers?

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) - As more workers head back to the office, some will have to share medical information with their employers – everything from vaccination status to COVID-19 testing to reporting fevers, coughs and chills.

That had some WCCO viewers asking: Isn't that a HIPAA violation? So, what health information can employers require from their workers? Good Question.

"It's been an interesting ride for employment lawyers, to say the least," said Zaylore Stout, an employment attorney with Zaylore Stout & Associates.

According to Stout, employers can require employers to get the COVID-19 vaccine. There are no federal or state laws in Minnesota that address this issue, so it's left up to employers. In May of this year, the EEOC issued guidance that says employers can mandate vaccines as long as they prove it's job-related.

There are so exceptions to a mandate: medical disabilities that fall under the Americans with Disabilities Act and strongly held religious beliefs.

But, what about asking for medical information beyond vaccines?

Employers can mandate medical testing, which could include taking of temperatures, COVID testing if they determine that it is job-related and consistent with a business necessity," said Stout. "Here's the example -- you have an employee, they come into work -- do they pose an immediate and direct threat to all the co-workers, yes, so the employer has the ability to try to prevent that from happening."

Stout says what employers can't ask for is details about things like diagnosis or underlying conditions, saying even that is a fine line.

"Sometimes you can request clarification, especially if the medical certification that's provided doesn't give enough details," he said.

Stout says none of this information employees give to employers have anything to do with HIPAA -- the Health Insurance Portability Accountability, a federal law that was passed in 1996 to create national standards for the protection of private patient health information being disclosed without the patient's knowledge. He says HIPAA is about the privacy of medical records when it comes to healthcare plans, healthcare clearing houses and healthcare providers, not information given to employers.

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