Ask a Social Worker: Dealing with Unauthorized Disclosure

Ask a Social Worker: Dealing with Unauthorized Disclosure

What to do if a co-worker tells someone about your bleeding disorder without your permission.

Ask a Social Worker is a monthly column featuring questions from the community and answers from members of NHF’s Social Work Working Group. If you have questions for our social workers, send them to [email protected].


Dear Diane and Betsy,

A co-worker I trusted disclosed my bleeding disorder to another colleague. I am private about my health and didn’t give her permission to share my personal information. How do I tell her to not do that again without hurting our working relationship?

Thank you for bringing up this important situation. Deciding if, what, and who to tell about your bleeding disorder is a very personal decision. One person might feel it is essential to disclose their diagnosis because it is part of who they are, where another may feel no one is entitled to information about their health aside from family and close friends. Your question addresses two important considerations:

  1. Sharing the news about protected health information.
  2. What to do when confidential information is shared and there is a breach of trust.

 Most likely you are experiencing a range of emotions, and we’re sorry that you experienced this breach of trust. It is not easy to have these types of tough conversations, and you may be a bit nervous. Although most people mean well, their comments and actions may not always be as helpful as they intend.

We would recommend having a private and honest conversation with your co-worker. You can explain and clarify how you keep your medical history private, and how it made you feel to learn that this information was shared with another co-worker without asking you first.

You may wish to discuss how to remedy this unintended disclosure; for example, would you and/or the co-worker like to discuss it with the third party? You could say that your medical information was not intended to be shared, and request that this please be kept confidential and not shared with others. It might be helpful, but not necessary, to educate both parties as to why you want to protect your private medical information. 

This situation may even present some transformative growth opportunities. What we mean is that it’s an opportunity to educate others on bleeding disorders, dispel myths, and strengthen communication among team members in a healthy manner. Having these types of conversations is not intended to make things at work more awkward or hurt working relations, but rather to provide closure to the situation. Being able to shift the conversation back to a place where you feel comfortable will be empowering — and it will help reset your workday. 

Sometimes people with a bleeding disorder worry that sharing information about their bleeding disorder with their employer or colleagues will result in discrimination or will hold them back from achieving success at work. The “Steps for Living” website includes information about your rights as an employee, qualifications for reasonable accommodations, considerations when deciding whether to disclose a bleeding disorder, and tips regarding disclosure and the workplace.

— Diane Bartlett, MSSW, LCSW

Bartlett is a clinical social worker and program manager at St. Luke’s Hemophilia Center in Boise, Idaho, and a member of the Social Work Working Group.

— Betsy Boegeman, MSW, LICSW, LADC

Boegeman is a clinical social worker at the Children’s Minnesota Center for Bleeding and Clotting Disorders in Minneapolis and a member of the Social Work Working Group.