Part 7: Prayer Requests and GINA, ADA, & HIPAA

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Brent, I agree your problem with GINA is now way bigger. In fact, you have defined a problem that pulls in HIPAA (because of confidential medical information) and the ADA (to the extent the person has a disability) as well! You raise the point that, when Christians share in prayer meetings and on Facebook and other forms of social media, genetic information could get shared; not to mention information about disabilities, and confidential health information! What can the poor employer do?


While I agree that this kind of information floating around implicates the federal statutes, I don’t think we are all on the hook to the extent that you fear. If people share their own ailments, even if it is genetic or disability-related, and if friends pass that on, it’s not the employer’s fault. The law does not make employers liable for information that someone tells them or that they accidentally discover. They don’t have to sit in a cave and plug their ears. There may even be a First Amendment defense for praying about protected information!

Of course, employers have to be careful not to appear to pry for more information. “I’m sorry your mom has cancer” is fine. “How many people in your family have had cancer, anyway?” is not fine. Employers will have to be careful not to facilitate sharing information inappropriately, and this may involve some employee training. If Jennifer asks for prayer on the mission prayer page because of her bipolar disorder, that is fine, but other mission personnel should not share it on her behalf. For one thing, if the mission is a covered entity under HIPAA, it has duties to protect certain information.

We can encourage and train personnel to follow the rules of kindness and confidentiality. Respond to what people share, but don’t pass it on without their permission. And if it’s not mission personnel sharing, but other people have taken it viral, that is not the mission’s problem.

But there is still one more piece to worry about. Be sure that you are not making discriminatory decisions based on a disability or genetic information. That is where you can really get into trouble!


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