My all-time favorite advice columnist is Miss Manners, who appears six days a week in The Washington Post. Employment law is not usually her thing, but this week, she actually got an employment law issue.
A letter-writer who uses a service dog complained to Miss Manners that she is frequently asked, presumably by curious strangers, what her dog is trained to do. The letter-writer asks,
"What is a polite comeback rather than saying, 'My medical information is federally protected by HIPAA, and you cannot ask about my medical history?'"
As all employment lawyers and HR professionals know, a question from a random stranger about an individual's medical condition does not violate the privacy requirements of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. In fact, I do not believe that such an inquiry violates any law at all, although it is certainly rude.
(In the employment context, the inquiry could violate the Americans with Disabilities Act, or possibly the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act.)
So, of course, I anxiously read on to see how Miss Manners would handle, or mishandle, her gentle reader's incorrect statement of the law.
Miss Manners did not disappoint. She delicately sidestepped the legal issue:
If you make a legal argument, you will inevitably run into a nosy lawyer who is happy to debate whether medical privacy laws apply to private individuals as well as health care providers."
Nailed it! See why I love Miss Manners? (Wait - is she talking about me?)
Her "manners" advice was just as good as her "legal" response:
If your questioner fails to stop when you reasonably say that the dog was trained for you, Miss Manners recommends an unambiguous follow-up: that neither you nor your dog cares to discuss it.
I give Miss Manners an A+ on her foray into employment law. Miss Manners, I hope you are "feeling correct" today -- you should be!