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Compulsory vaccine policies raise worker confidentiality concerns

Posted On: Jun. 1, 2021 12:00 AM CST

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Employers that mandate COVID-19 vaccinations for their workforce need to be prepared to verify inoculation, keep track of boosters and ensure they’re complying with relevant privacy laws, experts say. 

“(Companies) have to decide how to protect the confidentiality of the information” they’re collecting, consider what kind of proof of vaccination they will require and how they will maintain confidentiality, said Kathryn Bakich, Washington-based senior vice president and national director of health care compliance at employee benefits consultancy Segal Co. “We’re getting a lot of questions about what has to be kept confidential, who can see it, who cannot see it … You don’t want it in a personnel file.”

Simply recording a “yes” or “no” for vaccination status is not protected, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But if employers ask follow-up questions or include reasons for vaccine declinations, such as a disability or sincerely held religious belief, that could violate federal law, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

While employers tend to push these types of tasks to human resources, Ms. Bakich said it’s much better to create a secure intake to track vaccinations — such as a secure online portal — or have everyone email one single person who is trained in confidentiality procedures. 

They also need to be sure they’re tracking not only the initial one- or two-dose inoculation, but also boosters, said Michele Tucker, Sacramento, California-based vice president of enterprise operations at third-party administrator CorVel Corp.

“Shot records are going to be important,” she said. “If (employers) make it mandatory, they’re going to have to monitor the boosters. It’s probably going to have to be an ongoing vaccination program with new strains coming out — like getting the flu shot every year, but a little different.”