HIPAA violations can have serious consequences for both healthcare organizations and individual employees. The severity of a violation, along with factors such as the employee's compliance history and the organization's sanctions policy, may result in termination.
Understanding HIPAA violations
HIPAA violations can take various forms, including unauthorized access to patient records, improper disposal of protected health information (PHI), and verbal disclosure of sensitive medical conditions.
Not all violations are equal. The severity of a violation can vary based on factors such as the nature of the violation, its consequences, the employee's compliance history, and the sanctions policy of the employer.
When a HIPAA violation occurs, healthcare organizations are responsible for investigating the incident to determine the extent of the violation, its implications for patient privacy, potential legal issues, and the actions that need to be taken to prevent similar violations in the future.
Read more: What is a HIPAA violation?
Definition and examples of HIPAA violations
A HIPAA violation is an event that causes non-compliance with the rules and regulations of HIPAA. This violates any one or more of the Security rule requirements. These could include:
- Unauthorized access (such as sharing PHI with unauthorized persons)
- Inadequate security measures (failure to monitor access to PHI)
- Mishandling patient information (Not providing secure encryption during the transit of data)
Read more: Understanding HIPAA violations and breaches
Termination for HIPAA violations
The repercussions for a HIPAA violation can vary depending on the policies and procedures in place at the organization and the severity of the violation. Some healthcare organizations have strict rules regarding HIPAA violations and may choose to terminate employees who violate HIPAA regulations. On the other hand, some organizations may opt for internal disciplinary action for minor violations.
In cases where an employee knowingly or unknowingly violates HIPAA rules, disciplinary action may be taken against the individual. This can range from suspension pending an investigation to termination of employment.
Criminal penalties for HIPAA violations
Termination is not the only consequence of a HIPAA violation. In some cases, employees may also face criminal penalties for their actions. The Department of Justice can prosecute individuals for criminal violations of HIPAA rules.
Criminal penalties for HIPAA violations can range from financial penalties to jail time. The severity of the penalty depends on various factors, such as whether the violation involved knowingly obtaining and disclosing PHI, false pretenses, or malicious intent. Jail sentences can range from one year to up to 10 years for HIPAA violations committed with malicious intent or personal gain.
Read also: What are the penalties for HIPAA violations?
HIPAA violation penalties for employees
HIPAA violation penalties for employees can vary from organization to organization. Employers typically have sanctions policies that outline the penalties for violations. These policies consider factors such as the intention behind the violation, the speed at which it was reported, the employee's cooperation during the investigation, and whether it was a first-time offense.
At the lower end of the scale, minor violations may result in verbal warnings and additional training. However, as the severity or frequency of violations increases, so do the penalties. Employees may receive written warnings, suspensions, or, in cases where there is a history of violations, termination of their contract.