Ufberg & Associates: COVID-19 Vaccination Status is Confidential Under ADA

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A Federal District Court in Pennsylvania recently issued a decision that provides a valuable reminder that an employee’s COVID-19 vaccination status is considered a medical record which employers must keep confidential. In Purvenas-Hayes v. Saltz Mongeluzzi & Bedensky, P.C., a paralegal was required by her law firm employer to provide her COVID-19 vaccination status, which she did. The paralegal later sued the law firm, initially alleging she was not being paid for overtime work. A few days later, a lawyer in the firm disputed the paralegal’s allegations by informing the Legal Intelligencer, a newspaper that covers the law practice industry, that the paralegal left the firm because she did not wish to receive a COVID-19 vaccination. The paralegal then sued the law firm again, this time alleging a violation of the confidentiality requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) due to that disclosure.

The law firm defended the suit by arguing that the disclosure did not violate the ADA because: (1) the confidentiality requirement only applied to disability-related inquiries; and

(2) the law firm only disclosed her political views. The Court disagreed with both arguments, holding that when an employer’s inquiry of an employee yields information “regarding the medical condition or history of any employee,” the employer must treat the information as a confidential medical record under the ADA. When the employer asked the paralegal for her COVID-19 vaccination status, it requested information about her medical history, which she provided. The employer therefore had an obligation to keep her COVID-19 vaccination status confidential under the ADA.

This decision provides an important reminder that an individual’s decision not to receive a vaccination is nevertheless medical information that must be kept confidential. It is also a valuable reminder that organizations should be very careful when making statements to the news media about active litigation – or about human resources issues in general. If you have any questions about this case or the ADA’s confidentiality requirements for employee medical information, please call our office.

This Client Alert provides a general overview of new legal developments. It is not intended to provide legal advice. If you have any questions or would like more information about how these developments may affect your business, please contact us at (570) 341-8800.