Visitor Question

Is a county government Human Resources Dept. a “business associate”?

Submitted By: A (Denver, CO, USA)

I am a commissioned peace officer/investigator for a county government agency in the State of Colorado. I work for a county District Attorney’s office and I carry a firearm as part of my job. I sought mental health therapy through a psychologist specializing in police and public safety psychology. The DA’s Office pays for this service.

I needed to take a week off plus additional intermittent time as my therapy progressed, so I applied for leave under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The FMLA leave application requires a diagnosis of the condition.

I contacted county human resources and asked if this information would be confidential or would be shared with the DA’s office. I was told that it was confidential and would not be shared. I would not have gone forward with the therapy had I known that the information was going to be shared with my supervisors. I never gave permission for my medical information to be shared.

After 8 therapy sessions, I needed to ask the DA’s office to pay for additional sessions. The DA’s office authorizes this and not the county human resources department.

Upon learning that I was seeing a police psychologist and had taken FMLA leave for this purpose, the DA’s office contacted the human resources department and requested the FMLA documentation from my therapist, which included the diagnosis of acute stress disorder.

Human resources contacted the county attorney, and my FMLA application and diagnosis provided by my therapist was released to the DA’s office. I received a call from the human resources employee who had told me that my information would remain confidential. She explained that the information had been released to the DA’s office and apologized.

I was called into my supervisor’s office. He assured me that my confidential medical information had only been shared with five people in the DA’s office and that it would remain confidential.

I was told to leave the office early and to return on Monday unarmed, until my psychologist could provide a statement to the effect that I was not considered a danger to myself or others.

She did so, and I have returned to work armed.

My question is: Is the release of my FMLA application by county human resources to the County District Attorney’s Office, containing my diagnosis, a HIPAA violation? Thank you very much for reviewing my question.

Disclaimer: Our response is not formal legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship. It is generic legal information based on the very limited information provided. Do not rely upon the information in our response, or anywhere else on this site, when deciding the proper course of a legal matter. Always get a personalized case review from a local attorney.

Answer

Dear A,

Unfortunately, “covered entities” are the only ones subject to HIPAA laws. Covered entities are primarily health care providers, including hospitals, physicians, mental health care professionals, and others in the medical field.

The Human Resources Department or District Attorney’s office is not a covered entity. As a result, their actions are not subject to HIPAA rules and regulations.

At this point, inasmuch as you have been cleared to return to work, you might consider the consequences of pursuing this matter further. At this point it appears only 5 people know about it. If you decide to pursue it further, it is likely others will learn about your mental health issues.

Moreover, there is really little you can do. At this point inasmuch as a HIPAA violation hasn’t occurred, you might only be able to file a complaint of some sort with the Human Resources Department or District Attorneys Office.

The above is general information. Laws change frequently, and across jurisdictions. You should get a personalized case evaluation from a licensed attorney. Find a local attorney to give you a free case review here , or call (888) 647-2490.

Best of luck,

Published: November 28, 2014

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Visitor Questions

One thought on “Is a county government Human Resources Dept. a “business associate”?

  1. I put an application in for public housing. Housing wanted my medical and pharmacy costs to figure my rent.

    Pharmacy sent a detailed list of every prescription I have been prescribed for a year. I did not sign any agreement for list of medications. I think this is a HIPAA violation.

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