Was this a HIPAA violation? -- pregnancy announcement of an employee

Scene, IT departmental meeting of a University that has close relationships with hospitals and clinics in the area.

During a departmental meeting, one of the bosses announced that one departmental employee was pregnant, while another employee’s wife is pregnant.

I’m thinking that this is a medical condition that I had no “need to know”. I later mentioned it to the boss that made the announcement and he said it was fine because he had previously asked the people if it was public or secret information. I’m still thinking that I’m not supposed to know.

Anyone gone over HIPAA regs enough to point me at a section of the regs that’ll say if workplace pregnancy announcements are ok or forbidden?

I can’t say I really know HIPAA that intimately from that perspective. But just because something is health information does not mean that it cannot be disclosed by anyone under any circumstances.

I have a right to disclose information about myself in whatever way I want. If that involves telling Joe Coworker to tell the folks in the office, then that’s fine.

Doesn’t HIPAA only apply to patients. Note- I am not a hospital employee and I don’t know much about HIPAA.

I’m confused.

Where did Boss get this info? From the actual employees involved, or from the employees’ physicians, or from HR?

Who are “the people” who (presumably) said this was public information and he could announce it?

If the answers to the above questions are “the employees”, then no violation. I can tell you anything I want about my health and you are under no legal obligation to keep that information private. If the employees okayed the announcement, then there’s not even a violation of etiquette.

If Boss got the info directly from the employees’ ObGyn office or HR, without the employees’ consent, then that may be HIPAA violation on the part of the medical provider and/or Boss (depending on the circumstances).

However, once Boss had the info from whatever source, it would depend on who authorized public disclosure. Again, if that was the employees, then a public announcement is fine. Otherwise, possible violation.

I can’t see why the employee, or her agent whom she has directed to make announcement on her behalf, can’t tell anyone any medical information she wants to provide.

HIPAA isn’t designed to prevent people from telling other people about their own medical issues. It’s to prevent third parties from discussing or revealing them without permission.

From the questions asked, I’m sensing it wasn’t a violation. The boss got the information (as far as I know) from the co-workers themselves, not from HR or any clinic etc. So it is probably fine, as far as HIPAA. There is a difference between knowing something and announcing something though. I’m pretty sure the co-workers in question did not ask the boss to make the announcements.

I understand that we are either a covered entity or in a business partnership (or whatever HIPAA legalese means we must conform). That’s why the mention of hospitals and clinics. Sorry for any confusion on that front.

If I tell the boss that I have “horrible disease”[tm] I don’t want him announcing it at the next meeting just because I neglected to tell him outright that it’s private. And I kinda thought HIPAA fairly much was designed, at least in part, to stop people from blabbing about the health conditions of others.

Weird. My post disappeared.

Anyway, I said that unless she told the boss specifically that he could make an announcement to everyone, then yes it was a HIPAA violation.

If the conversation went:

“Boss, I’m pregnant.”

“Great! Does anyone else know? Should I tell anyone?”

“Yes, it’s public information.”

Then I think she means it’s public information and thus not violating HIPAA to tell anyone else. I suppose someone could make a fuss and say that “it’s public information” doesn’t also mean “and so feel free to announce it.”

AFAICT, HIPAA is designed to stop health care providers from babbling about your health to others without your permission. I looked up a couple of fact sheets at the HIPAA website, only health care providers were mentioned as having to follow the privacy law. Your boss is not a healthcare provider, did not receive the information from a healthcare provider, therefore this information is not covered by HIPAA.

You want something secret, keep your mouth shut and HIPAA will cover the only other people who know about it. If your coworkers wanted the pregancy kept quiet, they should have told the boss it was secret, not public. Tell someone it’s “public” and I figure you don’t have a problem with other people knowing about it.

Wrong. HIPAA covers anyone who has access to information. I work as a volunteer at a local hospital, doing clerical work. I don’t interact with patients, but I do have access to their charts and surgery schedules. Say I were to see someone I know coming in for a procedure. That doesn’t mean I can tell other people we know.

Even the janitors at the hospital can’t go home and tell their spouses they saw the next door neighbor at the emergency room.

That isn’t quite true. Employers (and the boss is considered the “employer”) do have to follow HIPAA regulations, as they relate to health plans, in most cases. The very short answer is that if an employer offers a health plan or an FSA, then he has to follow HIPAA regulations, part of which is safeguarding access to protected health information.

The overwhelming majority of pregnancies are not medical conditions or problems. Beyond that, it will soon be pretty obvious to anybody who sees these women that they’re pregnant.

HIPAA would cover doctor visits or lab tests related to the pregnancy, though. If a woman sees a doctor for a pregnancy test, the test results and the existence of the visit itself would be protected information, as would further tests such as amniocentesis or ultrasound.

HIPAA applies to any healthcare provider or associated entity. This includes insurance companies and can include employers if, for instance, HR gets info from an insurance company. So if boss got the info from HR, who got it because they handle part of the insurance process, it would probably qualify as a HIPAA violation (unless employee had OK’d the announcement).

You are probably required to follow HIPAA guidelines, but that would only apply to PHI for the patients - not necessarily for employees (depending on circumstances). There may be privacy requirements for employers that your boss violated, but I think they’d come under employment regulations, not HIPAA. I’d be pissed if my boss gave out my confidential info to other employees, but I wouldn’t try to file a HIPAA violation on it.

Yes, but all of you (even as volunteers) are acting as agents of the healthcare provider, and therefore are required to follow HIPAA guidelines. If I’m visiting a patient at your hospital and see the same neighbor in the ER, I can tell anyone I want.

Wrong. Pregnancy is a medical condition and would be covered by HIPAA if the information were obtained in violation of the regulations. It’s government legalese, it doesn’t have to be sensible, you silly you.

Mandatory disclaimer: I deal with HIPAA and PHI issues daily, but IANA HIPAA expert, contact your own lawyer, etc. There are lots of websites that discuss the HIPAA regs if you want to read them.

Pregnancy is considered a medical condition. It doesn’t matter if it’s completely normal and without “problems.”

P.S. Anyone who assumes that anyone who looks pregnant must BE pregnant is going to get a punch in the jaw one day!

What if I drove my friend Rick to the ER? Could Joseph Janitor tell his wife of my presence in the parking lot or waiting room if he omits who I came there with?

Doing clerical work is part of providing health care, and is rightfully covered. Being told by your coworker about a pregnancy does not have anything to do with providing that person with health care. You’re not pulling information from charts or doctor’s notes or any other information specific to the care that the person has gotten. You’re passing along information directly from that employee to other employees. I see it as completely divorced from providing the person with care. I could be wrong, of course, when it comes to the law, common sense doesn’t necessarily apply.

It just seems odd to me that working for the medical community would preclude all discussion of any individual medical information whatsoever without a written authorization. Michael Jackson’s nose issues, Cheney’s heart problems, the celebrity pregancy of the week, whatever. It’s all medical information, you’re a healthcare provider, it’s off limits.

I’d also like to see something in writing about the employer rule, all I can find is text like this

My legalese isn’t powerful enough to slog through all this governmental babbling.

Nope, it’s not as crazy as that. As a healthcare provider employee, I can’t divulge Protected Health Information (PHI) about our patients to anyone that doesn’t need it for a legitimate reason. I can give PHI to coworkers or outside entities as long as they have a legitimate business reason for needing the information and have also implemented HIPAA privacy standards.

As a healthcare provider employee, I can gossip to my heart’s content about any health information that I didn’t obtain from work. I can talk about Michael’s nose, Dick’s heart, or my next-door-neighbor’s trip to the ER, unless those people are our patients and I obtained the information from work. If I see the neighbor in the ER while I’m working, no can talk. If my across-the-street neighbor gives me all the dirt, I can gossip all I want. But I can’t tell across-the-street neighbor what I know about next-door-neighbor from work, even though ATSN already knows NDN was in the ER.

Which is why the OP wouldn’t be a HIPAA violation - the employee gave the info to the boss, so no violation, even though the organization is required to follow HIPAA regulations.

Make sense?

Here’s some info specifically about HIPAA as it pertains to employers: link

I don’t know about the second case, but I’d sure need to know if one of my colleagues were pregnant. She’s going to be taking extra time off, going to need help with various things later on. I might need to factor in time to train her replacement while she’s off on maternity leave; equally I might want to apply for that position myself and understudy her. Many work-related reasons.

Hmmm, probably. I know I’ve mentioned when I saw a former professor picking someone up, since he wasn’t a patient. Or when I mentioned my own sister was in the hospital for a kidney stone.