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US Department of Health and Human Services Office of Civil Rights (OCR) said on thursday That the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) privacy rules do not apply to employers or employment records.

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This means companies are not violating the legal privacy of their employees by asking them to reveal their COVID-19 vaccination status.

The OCR guidance is intended to “help with common workplace scenarios and answer questions about how HIPAA privacy rules apply. This information will be helpful to the public as we continue to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic,” according to an HHS news release ”

“We are issuing this guidance to help consumers, businesses and health care entities understand when HIPAA applies to disclosures about the COVID-19 vaccination status and to ensure that They have the information they need to make informed decisions about protecting themselves and others from COVID-19,” said OCR Director Lisa Pino.

FILE – The COVID-19 vaccination record card used in the United States in this photo illustration.

related: United Airlines fires 593 employees for denying COVID-19 vaccine

Company-issued vaccine requirements amid the ongoing and deadly pandemic have been the subject of controversy for many workers, resulting in mass terminations, protests and employees leaving their jobs.

Some have argued that requiring workers to disclose their vaccination status goes against HIPAA, but this has repeatedly been proven wrong.

Margaret Riley, a professor of law at the University of Virginia, told Businesshala Business that “businesses are free to set whatever rules they like to protect their other customers and employees. A business that has a particularly vulnerable employee or customer.” may choose to impose stricter rules, including demanding proof of vaccination.”

Businesses have been encouraging workers to get vaccinated for months, in some cases from time to time or by offering incentives such as gift cards. But are taking a more drastic stance and any remaining holdouts requiring vaccination, a push that has gained momentum since Pfizer’s vaccine recently received full approval from the US Food and Drug Administration.

related: Can businesses ask about your COVID-19 vaccination status?

President Joe Biden earlier this month announced a broadening of federal vaccine requirements, affecting 100 million Americans in all efforts to increase COVID-19 vaccination and curb the growing delta variant.

The sweeping rules state that all employers with more than 100 workers require them to be vaccinated or tested for the virus weekly, affecting nearly 80 million Americans. And about 17 million workers in health facilities that receive federal Medicare or Medicaid must also be fully vaccinated.

Biden also signed an executive order requiring vaccinations for executive branch employees and contractors who do business with the federal government – with no option to get tested. This includes several million more employees.

related: These companies require employees to receive the COVID-19 vaccination

An administration official said the requirement for large companies to mandate vaccinations or weekly tests for employees would be enforced through an upcoming rule by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which carries a $14,000 fine per violation. The White House did not immediately say when it would take effect, but said workers would have enough time to get vaccinated.

Wade Simmons, a partner at Mercer, a benefits consultant, said, “Employers feel like they’ve hit the point where unaffiliated people aren’t going to do it unless they have something important to do. ”

Shots are needed for businesses, and they can fire employees who don’t comply. In other cases, workers may be required to wear masks or undergo regular tests for the virus. Some companies are also looking to further increase the non-vaccinated pay for their health insurance.

At Delta Air Lines, employees unconnected on the company’s health plan will be charged $200 a month to help cover costs for a potential COVID-19 hospital stay.

related: Bill would require US airline passengers to prove COVID-19 vaccine or test negative

Meanwhile, United Airlines said nearly half of employees facing termination for refusing to vaccinate against COVID-19 have received their shots.

It cuts the number of airline employees to be fired from 593 to 320. Leslie Scott, an airline spokeswoman, said the declining number of possible firings shows the company’s policy of requiring vaccinations is working.

“In less than 48 hours, the number of unaffiliated employees who began the process of separation from the company has nearly halved,” Scott said.

In a memo obtained by Businesshala TV stations, the company wrote that more than 99% of its more than 90,000 employees have received the vaccine.

related: Biden announces vaccine mandate for employers with more than 100 employees

As of the latest, approximately 212.6 million people, or 64% of the total US adult population, have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. Data from CDC.

White House COVID-19 coordinator Jeffrey Ziants said, “Our top priority remains first and second shots. Overall, more than three in four eligible Americans — Americans 12 and older — have made at least their Got the first shot.” Briefing on Tuesday.

About a dozen states have vaccination mandates covering health care workers in hospitals, long-term care facilities, or both. Some allow exemptions on medical or religious grounds, but those employees will often have to submit to regular COVID-19 testing.

States that have set such requirements already have high vaccination rates. The highest rates are concentrated in the Northeast, with the lowest in the South and Midwest.

The Associated Press and Austin Williams contributed to this report.