A coworker revealed to business customers that I am dealing with an illness in my family. He was not given permission to share this information. As a result, customers lost confidence in my ability to provide services to them. I do not think it qualifies as a HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996) violation. How do I handle this?

  • What is your goal? We can't tell you what your goal should be. Commented May 2, 2018 at 23:14
  • Did the colleague give specifics of the illness or just that you are dealing with something?
    – cdkMoose
    Commented May 3, 2018 at 14:59
  • Did you lose customers? How are you measuring their confidence and how has it impacted you?
    – CKM
    Commented May 4, 2018 at 18:12

3 Answers 3


Your colleague behaved in an absolutely unacceptable way. He also damaged the business (customer lost confidence). There are two reasons why I might tell a customer about your illness: One is utter stupidity, the other is the intent to harm you.

I would tell your manager about what happened, he will most likely have a word with your colleague about what information to not give to customers, but may also have a word with him about privacy violations. Ask your manager if he will talk about privacy violations. If not, you can put in a complaint to HR. You may talk to your colleague first about how unacceptable his actions are, and delay the complaint to HR if you think the colleague will stop his behaviour.

Illness is your very very private business. No colleague has the right to talk about your private business to a customer.

  • The way I read your answer it seemed like you mean that OP has the illness, but OP says the illness was in their family
    – KirynDawn
    Commented May 4, 2018 at 14:51

I think this could either have been poor judgement on your colleagues part, or something more insidious. Your colleague may have intentionally done this to try to undermine you.

The way you respond may depend on what the intention was. If it was not malicious, and was simply a case of poor judgement, an apology may suffice. If they did it maliciously, then you have bigger problems to deal with, and you probably will need to escalate, as it likely won't be an isolated incident.

Only you can make this call.

Perhaps you could try to recall if there have been other signs that your colleague may be trying to undermine you. Sometimes incidents in isolation may not seem suspicious, but are when considered as a whole.


There's a couple options available, and it really depends on what result(s) you want. Do you want to get your coworker reprimanded? Do you want your customers' confidence back? Both?

If you feel like your coworker deserves to be reprimanded for this violation (this of course is your opinion, others may not agree), you should elevate this either to your manager, assuming you share managers or your human resource department. They will handle it from there. This of course should be considered thoroughly, HR especially is not your friend.

Concerning your lost confidence, do you have direct communication with each customer? Since your illness is already known, then being direct to each customer that knows seems like the best way. Word something to the tune of,

"As I'm sure you are aware I was struggling with a family [INSERT ILLNESS] previously, I am happy to update you that I everything is much better and glad to be back in full capacity working with/for you."

Being straight forward and expressing that you are back and healthy is the first step to regaining confidence, of course the second part is actually following through.

  • 2
    Minor quibble - the OP said the illness was in their family, and not the OP's illness. Commented May 3, 2018 at 0:23
  • @WesleyLong can't believe I misread that, thank you for pointing it out.
    – JoeCo
    Commented May 3, 2018 at 15:38

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