·  Legal News, Analysis, & Commentary


HIPAA Law and Its 3 Legal Implications in the Workplace

— January 28, 2022

When it comes to protecting private information, healthcare is among the most regulated sectors. Healthcare companies and medical practitioners should take measures to protect the personal data of their patients and employees.  

Employers who run covered entities, work as business associates, or administer a group health plan should adhere to the privacy regulations contained in the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). They must understand HIPAA rules and establish the proper protocols and tools to keep the health information of their employees safe.  

Technology proves to be a critical aspect of health information safety. As an integral part of the HIPAA law, the Hitech Act recognizes technology as a vital tool for electronically securing team member health records.  

What Is HIPAA Law? 

HIPAA refers to the regulations established through the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act passed in 1996. Under this law, covered entities can share necessary information to ensure that individuals access high-quality healthcare while protecting their privacy. Companies or providers with access to protected personal health information are legally required to comply with HIPAA provisions.  

Even so, the HIPAA law doesn’t prohibit employers from asking employees to produce a doctor’s note in situations where employees are absent due to medical reasons. HIPAA doesn’t cover information on all team member benefits. It doesn’t limit employers’ right to ask for information required to administer health coverage programs and only applies to health plans or medical records of those participating in a company’s healthcare plan.  

Under this law, covered entities should train their employees to ensure they understand the rules and regulations contained in the HIPAA law, including the legal penalties of violating those provisions.  

3 Legal Implications of HIPAA Law in the Workplace  

Violating the HIPAA law in the workplace has various potential legal implications. If a team member breaks the rules under this law, the employer may deal with the violation internally or terminate the team member.

You're Fired sign
You’re Fired sign; image courtesy of geralt via Pixabay,

But employers aren’t the only parties that can take action against HIPAA violations. In some instances, employees who violate the law may find themselves dealing with sanctions instigated by professional boards or face criminal charges that could attract fines and imprisonment.  

The legal implications of violating the HIPAA law in the workplace vary depending on severity. The actions that employers, federal regulators, professional bodies, and the Justice Department take are often based on: 

  • The kind of violation employees are involved in 
  • Awareness of HIPAA rules or regulations that the employees violate
  • The motive behind violating HIPAA rules  
  • How many people were affected by the violation 
  • Harm resulting from the violation 
  • Whether violations touch on criminal provisions of the HIPAA 
  • Whether corrective actions were taken to rectify the violation 

To fully understand the HIPAA law, listed below are the legal repercussions you need to know:

  1. Penalties for Civil Violations 

The HIPAA provides penalties for civil violations by employees. The penalties range from USD$100 for each violation by an individual team member to USD$25,000 for multiple violations of a similar kind. These penalties apply where employees are aware of HIPAA violations. They also apply where it’s deemed that employees would have known about HIPAA violations, had due diligence been conducted. Civil penalties don’t apply in situations where no willful neglect of the rules exists and steps to correct the violations taken within a month of realizing the breach.  

  1. Penalties for Criminal Violations  

Under the HIPAA, criminal violations can attract severe penalties. One of the criminal violations is the willful violation of the law. An individual guilty of this crime at the workplace may be fined a maximum of USD$250,000 and a minimum of USD$50,000. Further, the person may be compelled to restitute the affected persons.  

  1. Jail Terms for Criminal Violations 

Although criminal violations attract penalties, some can land employees in covered entities and business associates with jail terms. Negligence that results in criminal offenses can attract a prison term of 1 year. Likewise, obtaining health information through false pretense can result in a 5-year jail term. In addition, employees who violate HIPAA rules knowingly for personal gain or malicious intent can be sentenced to serve jail terms of 10 years, while identity theft can result in a 2-year mandatory jail term.  

Final Thoughts  

Every employer in the US should protect team member health information by complying with HIPAA law. Violating this law in the workplace has legal implications that include civil and criminal penalties, and in extreme cases, jail terms.  

Additionally, in the case, where a team member breaks the HIPAA rules for lack of training, the employer can be held responsible. With that being said, employers should thoroughly train and educate their employees about HIPAA provisions to further prevent legal actions.

Join the conversation!