In a February 18, 2010, informal letter, an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission senior staff attorney responded to an inquiry concerning the duties of federal employees and contractors relating to medical confidentiality under the Rehabilitation Act. The letter discusses the role of medical records custodians (MRCs) – those individuals whose official duties require access to employee medical information. Because the same legal standards apply to private-sector employers under the Americans with Disabilities Act’s medical confidentiality rules, the principles discussed in this letter can be helpful for all employers, including federal contractors.

The letter explains that MRCs should work in an environment that does not allow for unauthorized co-workers to have access to employee medical information. It goes on to list certain steps federal agencies and covered contractors should take to safeguard the confidentiality of employee medical information:

  1. Remind all employees that medical information is confidential and only MRCs are authorized to have access to such information on a need-to-know basis.
  2. Issue a memorandum informing all employees that anyone who discusses another employee’s medical information with unauthorized persons or reads medical documents not intended for him or her will be disciplined.
  3. To ensure that other employees, including other MRCs, cannot overhear conversations about an employee’s confidential medical information, consider providing an office with a door that an MRC can use when he or she needs to discuss an employee’s medical condition or history by telephone or in person.
  4. Install a fax machine that is shared only by other MRCs in the office, with the door kept locked except when in use by an MRC.
  5. Remind MRCs to keep any employee medical information in a locked file cabinet in their cubicles or in a file cabinet in the shared office to which only other MRCs have access.
  6. Periodically audit policies and procedures to ensure sufficient measures are in place to guarantee the confidentiality of employee medical information and protect against unauthorized disclosure.

While the EEOC Office of Legal Counsel’s letter is not an official opinion of the Commission, it provides insights into the EEOC’s view of potential safeguards to protect against unlawful disclosure of employee medical information under the ADA and Rehabilitation Act. Organizations with multiple departments reviewing employee medical information in connection with an injury or illness (such as departments for occupational health, risk management, HR and benefits) may have the greatest need to adopt recommended safeguards to protect employee medical information from unlawful disclosure.

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Photo of Joseph J. Lazzarotti Joseph J. Lazzarotti

Joseph J. Lazzarotti is a Principal in the Morristown, New Jersey, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He founded and currently leads the firm’s Privacy, e-Communication and Data Security Practice, edits the firm’s Privacy Blog, and is a Certified Information Privacy Professional (CIPP) with…

Joseph J. Lazzarotti is a Principal in the Morristown, New Jersey, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He founded and currently leads the firm’s Privacy, e-Communication and Data Security Practice, edits the firm’s Privacy Blog, and is a Certified Information Privacy Professional (CIPP) with the International Association of Privacy Professionals. Trained as an employee benefits lawyer, focused on compliance, Mr. Lazzarotti also is a member of the firm’s Employee Benefits Practice Group.

In short, his practice focuses on the matrix of laws governing the privacy, security, and management of data, as well as the impact and regulation of social media. He also counsels companies on compliance, fiduciary, taxation, and administrative matters with respect to employee benefit plans.

Privacy and cybersecurity experience – Mr. Lazzarotti counsels multinational, national and regional companies in all industries on the broad array of laws, regulations, best practices, and preventive safeguards. The following are examples of areas of focus in his practice:

  • Advising health care providers, business associates, and group health plan sponsors concerning HIPAA/HITECH compliance, including risk assessments, policies and procedures, incident response plan development, vendor assessment and management programs, and training.
  • Coached hundreds of companies through the investigation, remediation, notification, and overall response to data breaches of all kinds – PHI, PII, payment card, etc.
  • Helping organizations address questions about the application, implementation, and overall compliance with European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and, in particular, its implications in the U.S., together with preparing for the California Consumer Privacy Act.
  • Working with organizations to develop and implement video, audio, and data-driven monitoring and surveillance programs. For instance, in the transportation and related industries, Joe has worked with numerous clients on fleet management programs involving the use of telematics, dash-cams, event data recorders (EDR), and related technologies. He also has advised many clients in the use of biometrics including with regard to consent, data security, and retention issues under BIPA and other laws.
  • Assisting clients with growing state data security mandates to safeguard personal information, including steering clients through detailed risk assessments and converting those assessments into practical “best practice” risk management solutions, including written information security programs (WISPs). Related work includes compliance advice concerning FTC Act, Regulation S-P, GLBA, and New York Reg. 500.
  • Advising clients about best practices for electronic communications, including in social media, as well as when communicating under a “bring your own device” (BYOD) or “company owned personally enabled device” (COPE) environment.
  • Conducting various levels of privacy and data security training for executives and employees
  • Supports organizations through mergers, acquisitions, and reorganizations with regard to the handling of employee and customer data, and the safeguarding of that data during the transaction.
  • Representing organizations in matters involving inquiries into privacy and data security compliance before federal and state agencies including the HHS Office of Civil Rights, Federal Trade Commission, and various state Attorneys General.

Benefits counseling experience – Mr. Lazzarotti’s work in the benefits counseling area covers many areas of employee benefits law. Below are some examples of that work:

  • As part of the Firm’s Health Care Reform Team, he advises employers and plan sponsors regarding the establishment, administration and operation of fully insured and self-funded health and welfare plans to comply with ERISA, IRC, ACA/PPACA, HIPAA, COBRA, ADA, GINA, and other related laws.
  • Guiding clients through the selection of plan service providers, along with negotiating service agreements with vendors to address plan compliance and operations, while leveraging data security experience to ensure plan data is safeguarded.
  • Counsels plan sponsors on day-to-day compliance and administrative issues affecting plans.
  • Assists in the design and drafting of benefit plan documents, including severance and fringe benefit plans.
  • Advises plan sponsors concerning employee benefit plan operation, administration and correcting errors in operation.

Mr. Lazzarotti speaks and writes regularly on current employee benefits and data privacy and cybersecurity topics and his work has been published in leading business and legal journals and media outlets, such as The Washington Post, Inside Counsel, Bloomberg, The National Law Journal, Financial Times, Business Insurance, HR Magazine and NPR, as well as the ABA Journal, The American Lawyer, Law360, Bender’s Labor and Employment Bulletin, the Australian Privacy Law Bulletin and the Privacy, and Data Security Law Journal.

Mr. Lazzarotti served as a judicial law clerk for the Honorable Laura Denvir Stith on the Missouri Court of Appeals.

Photo of Joseph J. Lynett Joseph J. Lynett

Joseph Lynett is a Principal in the White Plains, New York, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. and is a contributor to the Disability, Leave & Health Management Blog. His practice focuses on assisting clients in meeting the legal and practical challenges posed by…

Joseph Lynett is a Principal in the White Plains, New York, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. and is a contributor to the Disability, Leave & Health Management Blog. His practice focuses on assisting clients in meeting the legal and practical challenges posed by federal and state laws protecting injured and ill employees, as well as disabled students and members of the public. Mr. Lynett provides imaginative and creative solutions to the complex array of workplace disability and health management issues faced by both large and small companies.

Learn more about Mr. Lynett on the Jackson Lewis website.