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Employers notified of individual results ‘in exceptional circumstances’ – HSE

By Mindo - 23rd Nov 2020

It is HSE policy to notify the individual and not the employer of Covid-19 test results “except in exceptional circumstances”, a spokesperson has told the Medical Independent (MI). Earlier this year, the HSE suspended the practice of informing an employer prior to discussing with the employee and sought guidance from the Data Protection Commissioner (DPC). The practice occurred in situations where an employee could not be reached to inform them of the result following outbreak and serial testing in workplaces. “We have reminded employers and individuals of the importance of providing correct contact details, and equally reminded our own teams on the importance of data quality,” said a HSE spokesperson.

“After employees receive their results, we communicate results in aggregate, with no names, to the employers. It remains the responsibility of the individual to inform their employer if they are positive.” In May, a CEO briefing report for the HSE board referred to legal responsibilities of public health specialists to take all steps to prevent spread of notifiable diseases. It also stated that the Executive was “cognisant of our obligations under GDPR regulations”. The practice of informing an employer prior to discussing with the employee “has been suspended”, according to the CEO report. “This practice had occurred in circumstances where it was not possible to contact the employee in advance.” A HSE board meeting in May also heard it had sought legal advice on the matter. Mr Graham Doyle, Deputy Commissioner at the DPC, told MI: “In my consideration, the powers afforded to medical officers of health under the Infectious Diseases Regulations 1981 do not conflict with the GDPR.

“Rather, when the public health authorities process personal data in the course of their actions undertaken in the public interest they must do so in a manner that complies with the data protection legislative frameworks and applies the principles of data protection. “We understand that it is the policy of the HSE to inform individuals of their own medical diagnosis prior to this information being provided to any third parties, including employers. Any deviation from this practice would need to be justified on the basis of necessity and proportionality, and strictly on a caseby-case basis. No examples of where this would be justified have been presented to the DPC to date and our general position is that individuals should be informed before employers.”

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