July 16, 2007
Contact: Leni Uddyback-Fortson
Phone: (215) 861-5102
Agency's New York regional office publishes fact sheet on HIPAA and OSHA complaints
PARAMUS, N.J. -- An investigation conducted by the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has resulted in the reversal of an employee suspension and full reimbursement of her salary at the Bergen Regional Medical Center in Paramus.
OSHA initiated an investigation in response to the employee's complaint under the employee protection provision of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, which protects employees who are punished or discriminated against for exercising their workplace safety and health rights. The employee was suspended for three days in October 2006 for an alleged violation of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) when she reported a workplace violence incident to the Health Professionals and Allied Employees union (HPAE), naming a patient as an assailant.
"Our investigation found that this activity did not constitute a HIPAA violation because employees can report a threat of violence to a supervisor, union official or OSHA without violating HIPAA," said Patricia K. Clark, OSHA's regional administrator in New York, adding that the agency has published a fact sheet on the issue to prevent any future confusion.
HIPAA requires the protection of privacy for individuals' health care records and information. Any person or organization that furnishes bills or is paid for health care is a "covered entity" that must safeguard private health information against disclosure with policies, people and procedure. Under normal circumstances, an individual must give written consent before his or her health information is disclosed. However, an entity's employees may disclose protected information when reporting conditions that pose a serious threat to one or more patients, employees or the public.
In addition to reversing the suspension, the center agreed to reimburse the complainant her full salary for the three-day suspension and expunge any reference to the suspension from her personnel file.
Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees. OSHA's role is to assure the safety and health of America's working men and women by setting and enforcing standards; providing training, outreach and education; establishing partnerships; and encouraging continual process improvement in workplace safety and health. For more information, visit www.osha.gov.
Note: See attached OSHA fact sheet on HIPAA and OSHA whistleblower complaints.
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