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Can HIPAA protect you about vaccine questions and mask requirements?

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During the uncertain Covid-19 times, many people choose to get vaccinated or remain on a clear anti-vax stance. In this case, you need to know – who is vaccinated and who isn’t? It can be hard to tell clearly by looking at someone or asking them a question since some people get offended by asking about their vaccination status.

One of the main questions is – are you legally allowed to ask a person’s vaccination status? Businesses have been in trouble for asking individuals this question, but they shouldn’t be – and here’s why.

HIPAA and mask requirements

One of the main questions about today’s society is – do I need a mask? Whether you are going to a friend’s house, restaurant, or public space, you may be wondering if you need to bring a face-covering with you in today’s world with Covid-19. Face coverings have become commonplace, grabbing one as you walk out of your house like your sunglasses, wallet, keys, phone, and mask.

Since masks are now required almost everywhere, at least before every person in the world becomes vaccinated, there is a question about whether HIPAA prevents you from needing to wear masks if you do not want to. Some people are against the Void-19 vaccine, whereas others do not want to wear face-covering due to personal reasons, “freedom”, or other concerns.

As more restrictions disappear, however, with public venues reopening, indoor dining again taking reservations, and concerns it’s beginning to occur during the summer months, you may wonder – does HIPAA protect me from wearing masks?

Some businesses are back to total capacity, with states like Texas having a no-mask mandate and a fully open policy, meaning everywhere is open 100%. However, some stores still ask customers to wear face-covering for safety reasons, protecting those who are not vaccinated, those at risk of disease, and immunocompromised people.

However, since there is no national or global rule regarding face coverings, it can get awards for those in charge of creating mask requirements. Do you require masks for your store, or do you let people do what they feel comfortable with?

Many businesses choose to ask customers to please wear masks to help those who have not been vaccinated or have not had both of their vaccination shots yet. As a business, you do not have a way of knowing who is vaccinated and who is not – people could fake their vaccination reports to get away without wearing a mask.

Unless a business asks for proof of vaccination, which angers many people, you can’t see just by your eye or by word of mouth who is vaccinated and who is not. Some customers are arguing a common rule we see in the medical world – HIPAA privacy rules.

Unfortunately for the anti-vaxxers and anti-maskers, many businesses and corporations see through this HIPAA covering. Companies are fully allowed to ask whether or not you have been vaccinated since HIPAA has nothing to do with other entities besides healthcare facilities, like bars, restaurants, movie theaters, or other public spaces.

The only legal issue that could arise from those not wearing masks and businesses asking about vaccination statuses is if a company showed visible discrimination. If businesses only ask certain people for vaccination proof, like elderly people or minorities, they have a bias against a particular type of customer.

However, if a business has the same policy for all patrons, like asking whether or not they are vaccinated, this does not incriminate HIPAA privacy rules or discrimination biases.

HIPAA and vaccine questions

Many people falsely believe that businesses are not allowed to ask customers if they have been vaccinated. They claim that asking a person their vaccination status is a breach of HIPAA and the privacy rule, which states you do not have to share confidential medical information with other people who you do not authorize to know about your health status.

The people who consider this to be true are referring to HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, a legal act that states medical entities are not allowed to share information without client consent, and patients can access their own medical information when asking a medical business.

However, HIPAA does not apply to other businesses and entities from asking whether or not people have been vaccinated.

Unfortunately for those in the healthcare field, HIPAA is one of the most misunderstood – and possibly confusing – laws. People constantly use HIPAA as an excuse to withhold information wrongfully, whether it be during a job interview or questioning from their boss.

HIPAA is a federal law that requires national standards to protect the privacy and security of patient health information, ensuring the information is not leaked through security breaches or unfairly shared between colleagues or businesses. If a patient does not consent to share health information, it is illegal for a doctor to tell someone else.

The only individuals who are subject to this rule are healthcare providers. Although people in the general public think other businesses, like bars, restaurants, hair salons, and cinemas, are covered under the scope of the HIPAA law, only healthcare providers, healthcare plans, and healthcare clearinghouses are included.

In short, this means people who ask questions about your health care status, like a colleague or a boss, are legally allowed to question your vaccination status. Although some people claim their vaccination and health status is covered under the Fourth and Fifth Amendments, this is not true – here’s why.

The Fourth Amendment only protects people from unreasonable search and seizures, keeping their personal property safe and free from violation, not their private medical information. The same amendment also protects citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures by the government – federal law can check if you are telling the truth.

The Fourth Amendment does not mean that under HIPAA, other businesses and individuals are not allowed to ask for private information.

In addition, the Fifth Amendment is also a concern. People think the Fifth Amendment protects people from “admitting” to something – however, this only applies to criminal court cases. In this instance, the Fifth Amendment directly coincides with the due process law, which means an individual does not have to answer a question asked by the government in a court of law.


As you can see, HIPAA does not protect individuals from having to answer questions regarding their vaccination status or prevent them from wearing masks in certain stores. Store owners and retail shops have every right to ask a person if they are vaccinated and have every right to request a person to please put on a face covering to protect other people.

Story by Brad Bernanke

Augusta Health Augusta Free Press Kris McMackin CPA
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