With over 146.4 million Americans fully vaccinated against COVID-19 as of June 16, many employers are beginning to send their employees who were not already working onsite back to the office. Now, many employees are wondering if they will be required to get the COVID-19 vaccine in order to return to the workplace.
On June 12, a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit against a private Houston hospital after a group of employees sued over the hospital’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate, which requires all employees to be vaccinated or face termination unless they have received a medical or religious exemption. VERIFY viewer Jean asked: “If I am in the hospital, can I ask the nurse if they have been vaccinated?” She also said, “I don’t want care from workers that haven’t been vaccinated.”
Can you ask your doctor or nurse if they’ve been vaccinated against COVID-19?
- U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
- U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)
- Kirk Nahra, partner, co-chair, big data practice; and co-chair, cybersecurity and privacy practice at WilmerHale
- Kayte Spector-Bagdady, lawyer, associate director, Center for Bioethics & Social Sciences in Medicine; and assistant professor, Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology at University of Michigan Medical School
Yes, you can ask your doctor or nurse if they’ve been vaccinated against COVID-19, but they don’t have to tell you.
WHAT WE FOUND
Kayte Spector-Bagdady, a lawyer and the associate director for bioethics and social sciences in medicine at the University of Michigan Medical School, told VERIFY by email, “If you are a patient in a hospital, you are free to ask any clinician whether or not they are vaccinated. They are also free not to answer you.”
She says while you can ask your doctor or nurse whether or not they have been vaccinated, you cannot, for instance, ask the hospital to provide your health care provider’s private medical information if they choose not to disclose it to you.
“The hospital, under employment law, is prohibited from revealing their private medical information to you without permission, if they even have it to begin with,” said Spector-Bagdady.
According to guidance from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), “if employers choose to obtain vaccination information from their employees, employers must keep vaccination information confidential pursuant to the ADA.”
Kirk Nahra, partner and privacy law expert at WilmerHale in Washington, D.C., says a patient is free to ask their health care provider whether or not they have been vaccinated. He also makes it clear that asking a doctor or nurse directly for their vaccination status is not in violation of any HIPAA laws.
“You are absolutely free to ask. If the nurse or doctor says, ‘I can't tell you because that's a HIPAA violation,’ they're just wrong – that's not a violation,” said Nahra. “The HIPAA rules, where they apply, are designed to do two things: protect your privacy as a patient but also make sure the healthcare system works well.”
In reference to Jean’s statement about not wanting to receive care from health care providers who have not been vaccinated, Spector-Bagdady says that patients have a limited ability to request specific information about their clinicians while in a hospital.
“Part of this is practical – there are specific teams assigned to specific patients at specific times. Part of this is to protect clinicians from patient biases. It is highly unlikely that a hospital would be able to honor patient preferences for ‘only vaccinated’ clinicians,” said Spector-Bagdady. “If a patient would like to be seen by vaccinated clinicians, their best bet is to go to a hospital that mandates COVID vaccines. Patients should realize, however, that hospitals still offer vaccine exemptions for employees with some specific kinds of religious or health concerns.”
According to the CDC, while the federal government does not mandate vaccinations for certain individuals, “for some health care workers or essential employees, a state or local government or employer, for example, may require or mandate that workers be vaccinated as a matter of state or other law.”