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TT&S Weekly

TT&S Weekly (9/14/20)

Topic of the Week  Medical Privacy

Medical records are created when you receive treatment from a health professional such as a physician, nurse, dentist, chiropractor, or psychiatrist. Records may include your medical history, details about your lifestyle (such as smoking or involvement in high-risk sports), and family medical history.

In addition, your medical records contain laboratory test results, medications prescribed, and reports that indicate the results of operations and other medical procedures. Your records could also include the results of genetic testing used to predict your future health. And they might include information about your participation in research projects.

Information you provide on applications for disability, life, or accidental insurance with private insurers or government programs can also become part of your medical file.

Do I have a right to have my medical information kept private in the workplace?

Your employer has a number of ways to obtain medical information about you, whether it's because you volunteer it when you call in sick or tell co-workers, or because you provide requested information on health insurance application or workers compensation claim forms. However, just because your employer has the information does not mean that it should be shared with everyone in the workplace, especially when you have not chosen to do so.

The basic legal principle that employers should follow is not to reveal medical information about you unless there is a legitimate business reason to do so. But because that standard is fairly vague, there are laws which more specifically protect the privacy of your medical records, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act, the law which makes it illegal to discriminate on the basis of an employee's disability. State laws may also provide additional protection.

The HIPAA Privacy Rule may control how a health plan or covered healthcare provider discloses protected health information to an employer, including your manager or supervisor if you are a patient of the provider or a member of a health plan. However, it does not protect your employment records even with respect to health related information. Therefore, the Privacy Rule does not prevent a supervisor from asking you for a doctor's note if the employer needs the information for administrative purposes such as sick leave or workers' compensation. However, your employer cannot obtain information about you from your health care provider directly without your authorization, unless other laws require them to disclose it. However, if you work for a health plan or a covered health care provider, the Privacy Rule does not apply to your employment records.

Can an employer require me to take medical tests in order to be hired?

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, an employer may not ask a job applicant whether they have a disability (or about the nature of an obvious disability). Furthermore, you cannot be required by an employer to take a medical examination before you are offered a job. Following a job offer, however, an employer can condition the job offer on your passing a required medical examination, but only if all entering employees for that job category have to take the exam and the exam is job-related and consistent with the employer's business needs. (You cannot be singled out for an exam merely because you have, or your employer believes you have, a disability.)

However, an employer cannot reject you because of information about your disability revealed by the medical examination, unless the reasons for rejection are job-related and necessary for the conduct of the employer's business. The employer cannot refuse to hire you because of your disability if you can perform the essential functions of the job with an accommodation.

The results of all medical examinations must be kept confidential and maintained in separate medical files apart from your regular personnel files.

I am part of a group health plan at work. How does HIPAA protect my health information?

If you are a member of a group health plan, your employer pays a premium to the health plan which covers your health care costs. In return for the premium paid, the health care plan assumes the risk of paying for your health care expenses covered by the plan.

Group health plans are covered by the HIPAA Privacy Rule as long as the plan has 50 or more participants. The HIPAA Privacy Rule applies to the plan itself, but not your employer, but still attempts to limit the use of medical information for employment purposes.

Under HIPAA, the group health plan can tell your employer whether you are enrolled in the plan or not, and can provide the employer with "summary information" that it can use to evaluate and compare premium bids or changes in coverage. If the health information your employer receives goes beyond the basic summary, then HIPAA requires the employer to establish procedures to keep the information private much like that of an entity that is covered by HIPAA. However, a fully insured group health plan that does not create or receive protected health information other than summary health information and enrollment or disenrollment information is not required to have or provide a notice of privacy practices. Most health plans are also required to avoid intimidation or any retaliatory acts and from requiring an individual to waive their privacy rights

Thought of the Week

"From September 15 to October 15, the nation observes Hispanic Heritage Month. We at the EEOC are especially privileged to fight for the rights of Hispanic and Latino Americans. We are making sure that future Hispanic and Latino heroes will never be impeded, stymied, or discouraged from achieving their full potential because of national origin discrimination. Richard Cavazos led raids on enemy positions in war. We, too, must keep tackling the bastions of discrimin­ation, big and small, just as he did – over and over. "

–EEOC Chair Janet Dhillon on Hispanic Heritage Month 2020

Weekly Comic by Jerry King

Weekly Comic by Jerry King

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    List of the Week

    from Economic Policy Institute

    Working people have been thwarted in their efforts to bargain for better wages by attacks on unions

    • De-unionization accounts for a sizable share of the growth in inequality between typical workers and workers at the high end of the wage distribution in recent decades—on the order of 13–20% for women and 33–37% for men.
    • On average, a worker covered by a union contract earns 13.2% more than a similar nonunion peer.
    • The share of workers covered by a collective bargaining agreement dropped from 27.0% to 11.7% between 1979 and 2018, meaning the union coverage rate is now less than half where it was 40 years ago.