52 Tips in 52 Weeks: Employers Should Not Share Private Medical Information

July 27, 2020

I am an avid newspaper reader. For more than 25 years, I’ve been grateful for the opportunity to catch up on the news of the day from my own home without a computer screen!

I’ve been interested in following so many different headlines and stories these days and I’m especially enthusiastic about the now growing sports section. After so many months with most sports on hold, news of the upcoming baseball season has me in an anticipatory mood.  I’ve been following the stories of this week’s exhibition games and am looking forward to Opening Day.  I’ve been struck, however, by report after report of professional athletes testing positive for COVID-19.  Of course, news of ANY individual struck by the virus is terrible news, but there is an extra sense of loss when folks need to recover in the spotlight and in the headlines.  I was particularly pleased by Mike Elias (Executive Vice President/General Manager of the Baltimore Orioles) who responded to questions about disclosing players’ COVID-19 positive tests: “We don’t like to be cagey or withhold info. But again, this is a private medical matter for these individual people, and I don’t think it’s anyone’s best interest to get out in front of it, mislabel something and have to unwind that later for whatever reason.”[1]  Perhaps you’ve read stories like this or received communications from organizations you are part of stating that one of their employees has tested positive for COVID-19 and that the identity of the individual would not be shared.

Nonprofit organizations can and should be following suit and adhering to their own policies for confidentiality of employee information, especially medical information. Our personnel policies would preclude our organization from making announcements about a staff member’s positive COVID tests and our “COVID 19 Return to Work Guidelines” also reflect this in this statement:

“If management is made aware that someone in the office has tested positive or is in quarantine, the staff will be informed that possible exposure in the workplace has occurred, without identifying the individual.”

Of course, such policies do not eliminate the possibility that employees (including our own staff or individuals working as professional athletes) might share their own health status, but this would be something an individual may voluntarily choose to share or not.  And, it would not be initially shared by the employer.

The Standards for Excellence educational packet on Administrative Policies includes our Sample COVID-19 Return to Work Guidelines and the Institute’s educational packet, Personnel Policies, Employee Orientation, Compensation, and  Evaluation includes a helpful Model Employee Handbook. The Model Employee Handbook, just updated and re-released in 2020, provides a comprehensive set of personnel policies on a range of topics including: confidentiality, career development, workplace practices, leave policies, benefits and insurance coverage, communication, compensation, and much more.  The Standards for Excellence Model Employee Handbook also includes a comprehensive section on forms and additional information that can be customized and implemented in any nonprofit organization.

These educational resource packets and in fact, the full series of all packets  – including sample policies, tools and model procedures to help nonprofits achieve best practices in their governance and management – can be accessed by contacting a licensed Standards for Excellence replication partner, one of the over 150 Standards for Excellence Licensed Consultants, or by becoming a member of the Standards for Excellence Institute.

We share our sincere wishes for your continued good health and patience as we all navigate these challenging and uncertain times.

[1] Meoli, Mike Orioles withhold COVID-19 Test Results, Elias said “I don’t think it’s anyone’s best interest to get out in front of it.”, Baltimore Sun, July 7, 2020.  https://www.baltimoresun.com/sports/orioles/bs-sp-orioles-covid-tests-20200707-poja2jcoqbc3nlb75vdsr44xji-story.html


Amy Coates Madsen is the Director of Programs for Maryland Nonprofits and the Director of the Standards for Excellence Institute, a national initiative to promote the highest standards of ethics and accountability in nonprofit governance, management, and operations, and to facilitate adherence to standards by all organizations. The Standards for Excellence Institute is a program of the Maryland Association of Nonprofit Organizations where Amy has served for more than twenty-four years. Amy is responsible for coordinating all aspects of the association’s comprehensive ethics and accountability program and efforts to replicate the program nationally. She serves as a frequent trainer and writer in the areas of board conduct, program evaluation, program replication, fundraising ethics, and nonprofit management. She has taught courses on nonprofit ethics and accountability at the Johns Hopkins Institute for Policy Studies Certificate Program on Nonprofit Management.