Telling staff about co-worker's health issues

Question: “Recently an employee had chest pains at work and was taken to the hospital. To respect his privacy, we did not make an all-staff announcement about what happened, but did tell management. However, some employees who were very concerned about their co-worker got upset that we didn’t keep them informed. Did we handle this correctly? What’s should our policy be on disclosing an employee’s health issues to other employees?”—Pierre in AZ


This is a sticky situation that happens frequently, whether it’s chest pains, an off work accident that others know about, surgery or a new baby. Unfortunately because of HIPPA you can get in trouble relaying any medical information to anyone, including management. I handle workers comp, short term disability and FMLA and struggle with what is allowable to relay to a supervisor or department head on a daily basis.

the less that management speaks about the employee,is better.I know that the fellow co-workers would be concern,but it is better left by that employee to tell it’s fellow co-workers than anyone else.All that management has to say is that he or she was not feeling well.

It is the responsibility of the employer to protect employees’ personal information, even from concerned co-worker’s. Specific information should not be announced, but you could announce that he is okay since there is concern. Information to management should be limited as well, since there could be some issues with ADA.

FMLA Compliance D

HIPPA prohibits disclosing the information to coworkers unless the worker signed a release authorizing disclosure. In the instances where something like this happens, it is best to use very generalized statements like “he is ok and will return as soon as possible”.

The HIPPA laws prohibit anyone from disclosing health information at work, so, in light of your situation, I would keep any health information that you come upon confidential and talk to your associates about HIPPA and explain why you can’t give out details. Education is the key.

Keep the information management discloses ‘general’ in nature – the kind of response you’d get if you called the hospital.

Direct staff to contact the employee or his/her family if they desire more info and/or send a card where they inquire about the employee’s condition.

Many times friends of the sick employee will keep fellow workers apprised about the employee’s condition/progress.

Bottom line – management should not get involved in releasing detailed personal health info about any of its employees.

I would think that it would be more a tricky situation if the employee was NOT doing well. Perhaps it best to leave it to watercooler between folks on the same level in the organization.

The concern of fellow workers would make it easy to give too much information that is really prohibitted by HIPPA. This is a good time to remind co-workers that HIPPA prevents all employees from passing health information even “at the watercooler”. It is best to say that the information has to come from the ill worker or his family. If you learn of information, don’t spread it, even with the best intentions.