Dealing with medical adversity in the workplace.
Adversity, the one thing that people are guaranteed to see at least once in their lifetime, it’s more commonly known as difficulties or misfortune. It is a fact that adversity will strike everyone, and that doesn’t exclude employees or employers. The real meaning of HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) has many aspects including rules for patient privacy, patient security, HIPAA breaching, and patient safety. All of these aspects are in place to make it easier for people to keep health insurance, protect the confidentiality and security of healthcare information, and help the healthcare industry control administrative costs. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services define HIPAA as “protecting the privacy of individual’s identifiable health information”.
How does HIPAA relate to adversity and working?
Well it doesn’t, unless that adversity is health related. Health adversity affects friends and family and it’s also a never-ending controversy in the workplace. Health adversity affects both the employee and the employer. It affects the employer because the employee is responsible to perform their work and adhere to company policies. The employer is expected to keep the business running smoothly along with adhering to state and federal laws. These practices happen daily in our society, from small businesses to large businesses.
Let’s take for example former Chicago Bears wide receiver Johnny Knox. Although in this case, football is a professional sport, it is still a job. Johnny Knox had been playing for the Bears for three years when he encountered a devastating hit which fractured his vertebrae. Unable to continue playing football, rather, perform his job duties, the Bears, (the employer), were forced into a situation. Should they keep Knox on the team and continue to pay him, or release him and terminate his contract. The Bears elected to terminate his contract. While this seems obvious because in football if you are unable to play (perform the job duties) the sport then you don’t get paid, but let’s look at another example.
There is a man, for confidential reasons his name will remain anonymous, who has Pulmonary Hypertension. Pulmonary Hypertension is abnormally high blood pressure in the arteries of the lungs. It makes the right side of the heart work harder than normal. He was diagnosed in 2010 and he recently went in for some tests. He told his employer that he was going in for some tests, using his vacation time, and upon his return his employer eliminated his position. Again a situation tough for both the employee and employer. The only thing that could have and should have been done better is communication.
- Communication between the employee and employer is crucial when it comes to health adversity in the workplace. We understand that employers are not to violate HIPAA or discuss employees’ health situations. However, if an employee comes to you, you may want to consider a few things to discuss that will only enhance communication.
- An employee may choose to explain the details of their health, but they are not required to do so.
- Employers should communicate how many days the employee has regarding vacation, sick time, PTO; or if applicable, they are eligible to apply for Family Medical Leave Act. (FMLA).
- Get a complete understanding of the situation without getting to in-depth about health issues. Unless your company has an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), employers may not give any type of medical advice. However, if the employer does have an EAP, the employer is obligated to inform the employee of their options regarding the EAP and to discuss the EAP with the individual who coordinates the EAP.
- Explain to the employee the company’s policy on missing days without prior authorization. This information should be in your employee handbook.
- Create an environment that encourages employees to ask questions if they don’t understand something.
VRC builds strong relationships with their clients allowing communication to be open and frequent. Communication isn’t going to stop these issues all together. However, VRC works with you to find solutions to strengthen communication between you and your employees.