- A Wisconsin judge has issued a temporary injunction preventing the state from releasing the names of more than 1,000 employers with potential COVID-19 outbreaks. The lawsuit, brought by Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce and other business groups, had the support of construction organizations like Associated Builders and Contractors and the Associated General Contractors of Wisconsin.
- Gov. Tony Evers' administration, according to WMC, was set to release the names of employers that had at least two cases of COVID-19, regardless of where they were exposed, or that had two or more contact tracing investigations even if no one tested positive.
- WMC successfully argued that releasing the names would be a violation of state medical privacy laws, which prohibit release of the names of patients' employers, that revealing employer names would cause WMC members and their employees "irreparable harm" and that disclosing such information could undermine the public's trust in the Wisconsin Department of Health Services and its efforts to halt the spread of the novel coronavirus.
The ABC, the AGC of Wisconsin, the Plumbing Mechanical Sheet Metal Contractors Association, the Midwest-Southeast Equipment Dealers Association and other trade groups submitted an amicus brief in support of the injunction. The trade groups pointed out that many construction company employees wear identifying logos on their clothes and some even drove vehicles with company insignia, leaving them with "scarlet letters" that potentially could link them to contractors on the list and unfairly associate them with the coronavirus.
The groups also bolstered one of the WMC's arguments — that the names of employers are protected under the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 as confidential patient demographic information. Wisconsin, according to the brief, has incorporated HIPAA into state statutes. The state could only disclose the information if they "de-identify it" in accordance with HIPAA standards.
The court has not yet issued a written order related to the temporary injunction, only an oral one.
This injunction marks another victory that the construction lobby has won in the name of privacy. In 2019, after years of industry pressure and support from a business-friendly President Donald Trump administration, OSHA issued its final revised electronic recordkeeping rule without the requirement that employers submit their injury and illness reports electronically after which they would have been available for public review.
Industry groups maintained that the information contained on the forms could give competitors an unfair glimpse into other contractors’ operations. The data, some argued, could also misrepresent companies’ safety records since it would only includes accidents and illnesses and not measures taken to correct the conditions that might have led to the incidents.