Q: Are Payroll records covered under Hipaa laws? Is it illegal for me to see them if I've been given access in the past?
I am 1 of 2 who work in my office. We are on our 4th office manager since I started. At times I have been the only office person for weeks and done all office duties besides Payroll. My company uses a Payroll service, but can't always pay the taxes right away, so writes us checks with no paystubs. We eventually get the paystubs when they pay the taxes later on. I used to just look in the Payroll records when I needed proof of income or even just to check my hours. I assumed it was ok since 1. I have access 2. Have been asked by my employer to make copies of other employees records in the past. 3. At times I was the only office person. The office manager before our current 1 found out I looked at the records and the next day drilled locks into the cabinet and told me they were supposed to be locked up and I wasn't allowed to look at them due to Hipaa. I recently accessed my records in the computer to see how much sick time I had and again told I couldn't. Am I breaking the law looking?
A: HIPAA would not apply, as that applies to health records, but there are other privacy rules/laws that apply, so no, you should not be looking at other's records, but the violation is on the employer for not preventing you from doing so.
On a different topic, it sounds like your employer is violating other wage and hour laws, including record keeping rules that require a pay stub. May not be worth the fight right now, but when you leave the company you should consider discussing this with an employment law attorney.
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A: HIPAA stands for Health Insurance Portability and Profitability Act and as Mr. Stevens' explains, relates to personal healthcare information. HIPAA laws don't relate to payroll, rather, they relate to medical treatments and protecting information from persons or entities who have no business/billing/legal reason for accessing it.
If you have access to all of the information maintained by your employer, depending on what type of company you work for, it is possible that HIPAA protected information is 'at your fingertips' but this does not mean you are allowed to look at the information in the absence of a business, and/or legal, reason for doing so. Because HIPAA laws are very nuanced and esoteric, the responsibility for maintaining and protecting this privileged information falls on the employer who in the eyes of the law, is equipped for the task.
If you are the only person in the office it makes sense that you have access to most, or all, of the company's information. Unlike large businesses, where staff serve more specific and isolated roles, in smaller companies individuals often wear many hats at the same time. But again, this doesn't mean you have the right to access information maintained by the company.
An employment attorney can help you better understand the wage and hour laws that apply to your situation. Employers, regardless of size, are required to make certain information available to every employee--if this isn't happening, then your employer could have exposure. Depending on your situation, it may or may not make sense to pursue this legally--especially if your primary concern is with knowing the hours that are available to you and you believe your employer is not keeping this information from you for improper reasons. Moreover, if you have a good working relationship with your employer, or you are comfortable discussing this with your employer directly, not involving an attorney could make even more sense.
The bottom line is this--you should have access to your own records and if you have access to the records of others, you should only actually access the information for legitimate business purposes. It might not be a violation of the law that will get you in trouble, but it could expose your employer to problems and the fallout could very well impact you.
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