HIPAA-Call in sick

When an employee calls in before their shift starts and says they can't come in our supervisors are afraid to ask if they are sick for fear they will violate HIPAA. Just how much can they ask without getting into trouble?


  • 9 Comments sorted by Votes Date Added
  • While HIPAA applies to information from the insurance company, I understand your concern. Is there a reason the supervisor would need to know why they are not coming in? If not, they don't need to ask and it is the responsibility of the EE to provide additional information.

  • We are an electric distribution company, and need to schedule our work. A common situation has started: Employee calls supervisor and says simply, "Can't come in today". Personal leave is supposed to be scheduled 3 days in advance except for emergency or illness. Can we at least as "Why?"
  • When our employees call off we ask them why they aren't coming in. If they say they're sick we leave it at that and don't ask for any further information. There's no need for them to go into detail about their illness because sometimes you get information you really don't want.
  • Thanks very much! This will help me a lot.
  • But, don't get sideways with the paranoia of not being able to ask questions. A supervisor can ask any question he wants to ask. Some questions are stupid questions. But, bottom line is that a supervisor can ask, "Oh? What's wrong with you today? Why can't you come to work? What do you mean you're sick? Are you seeing a doctor? You think you might be out again tomorrow?" It is absolutely never a violation of HIPAA to ask these questions. Never. It may arguably, by a stretch, be a possible violation of the ADA to ask medically related questions that may tend to elicit information about a disability. Otherwise, go for it; make the employee accountable, or at least uncomfortable. You can even ask, "Sick, what the hell is sick? What IS your temperature anyway?"
  • Don's right on target, as usual. Anything your employee agrees to tell you is not protected by HIPAA. Supervisors have legitimate business necessity reasons for inquiring about the illness of an employee for a ton of reasons and if those rights are diluted, we'll be down to getting e-mails from staff telling us they can't come in today.
  • Ihill: I'm afraid, after reading through these posts that you will recommend to your supervisors that they make no medical inquiries. HIPAA does not make that illegal! Ask away. What HIPAA would make illegal is getting medical information from your plan and releasing it to others. Discussing one's reasons for absence, even exploring what's medically the problem with them today, is no violation of anything. If an employee tells a supervisor, "I'd really rather not discuss my medical problem with you today," that's one thing, and should not be pursued by the supervisor (maybe by HR); but, asking typical conversational questions about these call-ins is no violation of anything.
  • Thanks, Don. I'm going to tell our supvs to by all means ask why someone is now going to come in to work, and I will reassure them that we are not all going to land in jail if they ask what the problem is. I'm getting a little tired of walking on egg shells all the time around employees who work the system!

  • Sorry, I meant to type someone who is NOT going to come in to work. Friday fingers.
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