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Ely, Counselor at Law
Category: Employment Law
Satisfied Customers: 102350
Experience:  Years of experience in running a medium sized law firm.
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I am a Clinic Manager and HIPAA Officer for our company. I

Customer Question

I am a Clinic Manager and HIPAA Officer for our company. I received a phone call stating that one of our patients, who is also an employee, was getting narcotics from one of our physicians and selling them. I looked into this patient/employee chart to verify the physician and that a narcotic was on her med list which both were correct. I immediately called HR to report the incident. My Director gave me a written warning for going into the employees chart to verify the information. We have not written policy stating that as a HIPAA Officer or Clinic Manager we should not investigate. Is this truly a HIPAA violation?
JA: Because employment law varies from place to place, can you tell me what state this is in?
Customer: Minnesota.
JA: Is the employment agreement "at will," union, full time or part time?
Customer: Full time, non-union.
JA: Anything else you want the lawyer to know before I connect you?
Customer: In my past position I have investigated such allegations. My HIPAA Officer status was removed however they want me to train in the new person and they are going to reduce my pay by $3,100. per year but I never received an increase when I took over the HIPAA Officer position.
Submitted: 11 months ago.
Category: Employment Law
Expert:  Ely replied 11 months ago.

Hello and welcome to JustAnswer. Please note: This is general information for educational purposes only and is not legal advice. No specific course of action is proposed herein, and no attorney-client relationship or privilege is formed by speaking to an expert on this site. By continuing, you confirm that you understand and agree to these terms.

I am sorry to hear about this situation. Essentially, the question becomes: can an employee at the same company look at another employee's medical records for non-medical purposes?

HIPAA is not clear on this. it does not say to which extent other employees/management can have access to an employee's medical records The rule of thumb that has been shaped by court opinion is that other employees such as HR and management CAN have access to such records provided that they have legitimate business reason to access it.

Legitimate business normally means medically-related matters such as FMLA, ADA accommodations, etc. So legitimate reasons are normally medically-related. However, it is arguable that this can be expanded into investigation matters if the employee is suspected of wrongdoing or criminal actions and their medical file is somehow involved. While this is arguable and while we are essentially talking about a gray area (access by other workers of medical records for non medical but also legitimate purposes) from what already is only a rule of thumb but not really law (access by other workers), I really do not see the US Dept of Health and Human Services having an issue if the review was legitimate and the employee that accessed it was specifically in a position to investigate the claim for the company.

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