Coronaviruses 004 lores.jpgThe outbreak of a new coronavirus that is believed to have began in central Chinese city of Wuhan and now appears to be spreading to the United States is driving concerns for organizations around preparedness regarding their operations, their customers, and their employees. Both the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the State Department have issued travel advisories, and the CDC asks everyone who traveled to Wuhan in the last 14 days and experiences symptoms to seek medical care immediately.

Many organizations are seeking guidance on how best to respond to these concerns, especially those in certain industries. Business that rely on international travel, such as in the commercial airline and border protection industries must be particularly aware. Organizations must consider a range of issues – travel restrictions, how to identify persons likely to have been exposed to the virus and how to limit that exposure, communication plans in the event an exposure is identified, as well as a range of employment law issues, including under the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, the National Labor Relations Act, and other federal and state laws. Learn more about these here.

Naturally, however, the spread of infectious disease also raises particular concerns for healthcare workers who want to do their jobs and care for their patients, while also protect themselves and their families. In the healthcare sector, as with prior contagious disease outbreaks, fears about contracting the virus could lead to impermissible “snooping” and sharing of information by healthcare employees. Covered entities and business associates therefore need to take this increased risk seriously and remind members of their workforce members that they may not access or disclose patient records for an impermissible purpose. Healthcare workers also should be reminded that impermissible snooping also can lead to termination, fines, and in some cases criminal prosecution.

In November 2014, during the Ebola outbreak, the Office for Civil Rights issued a bulletin addressing HIPAA privacy in emergency situations. This bulletin provides a good resource and reminder for health care providers when working in this environment.  For some covered entities that may not yet maintain as robust a program for creating HIPAA privacy and security awareness, this would be a good opportunity to communicate some of the basic safeguards required under HIPAA, including when and under what circumstances they can share patient information with family, friends, public health agencies, and the media. All covered entities should also remember to document these efforts, as it is required under HIPAA and will help them to substantiate their compliance efforts.

Healthcare providers also must remember that HIPAA is not the only game in town. They have to also consider more stringent state laws that may apply in these situations. Additionally, for healthcare providers in different settings, such as universities in an educational setting, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) may have additional protections for treatment records pertaining to students.

No one knows where the next victim of the coronavirus will show up for care. First and foremost, that provider needs to be prepared to treat that person. But the provider also needs to be sure privacy and security safeguards are in place to avoid a breach of the patient’s privacy and a compliance exposure.

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Photo of Joseph J. Lazzarotti Joseph J. Lazzarotti

Joseph J. Lazzarotti is a principal in the Berkeley Heights, New Jersey, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He founded and currently co-leads the firm’s Privacy, Data and Cybersecurity practice group, edits the firm’s Privacy Blog, and is a Certified Information Privacy Professional (CIPP)…

Joseph J. Lazzarotti is a principal in the Berkeley Heights, New Jersey, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He founded and currently co-leads the firm’s Privacy, Data and Cybersecurity practice group, 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, Joe 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 – Joe 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 – Joe’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.

Joe 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.

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