I work in a French company with ~100 employees. I tested positive for Covid-19, then immediately contacted my N+1 (= direct supervisor) to list the 2 people I have been in contact with at work, with no sufficient protection to send them back home.

A few hours later, the CEO sent an e-mail to the whole firm about my situation, giving my name and the 2 other people's names, without my consent. He was asking people to be careful and respect the safety protocols. Stating my name made me really uncomfortable, and feeling like I was a bad example. Considering the fact that this is just an internship I didn't want to say anything about this, but it kind of felt like the medical secrecy wasn't respected.

Should I do something about it ?

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    What would be your desired outcome of doing something about it? Sep 29 '20 at 19:46
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    What’s an N+1? By respecting medical secrecy, are you referring to specific laws?
    – BSMP
    Sep 29 '20 at 19:50
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    For context, for those don‘t know the covid numbers in france atm are higher now than the peak in March, April.
    – morbo
    Sep 30 '20 at 6:55
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    @BSMP To me, N+1 is used in France to refer to the direct supervisor (N is one's level, N+1 is the level above, N+i is i levels above. So N+2 is one's boss' boss) Sep 30 '20 at 7:25
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    @Opifex nope, JeremyGrand's explanation is the correct one (you are probably refering to the term +1, which means a spouse/additional guest at an event.)
    – Aserre
    Sep 30 '20 at 9:45

First of all, I wish you the very best and to beat this virus! Feel better soon!

The CEO response to this situation is unprofessional at best and could be criminal at worst. This should not have happened, especially in today's circumstances, when the whole world is fighting off COVID.

Sadly, I don't see much that you can do, since it has already happened and word got out, so know it's about damage control and helping out others I think:

  • Contact the CEO and ask him to only disclose additional updates regarding you and colleagues anonymously, without disclosing names and other identifiable information. This may help your future colleagues and you, also it might give an idea or two to the CEO of the damage done. Also, CEO is not all 100 people and while interns do get special attention, I think most people would understand your situation.
  • Your main goal now is to fight this virus off, while I know that the internship is important, especially early on, be prepared to move past it if necessary.
  • I would suggest you to reevaluate the company as a whole, because IMHO, this is a quite serious thing, disclosing one's medical information, do you really want to work there?
  • Also there is a side of contacting a lawyer and seeing what you can do from there, but if you want to keep your internship (as sad as it would in this case), doing so may lead you to being let go.

Get well soon!

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    @TymoteuszPaul: "Why criminal" because the employer violates OP's privacy rights by telling other people medical information, i.e. very private details without OP having authorized them to do so!? Since OP is able to speak, potential contacts can be found by asking OP with whom they were in contact. Which has been done. Generally speaking, it is already a big exception that for SARS-CoV2 infections the employer gets to know what illness OP has (normally, the information that OP is ill would have to be sufficient). Sep 29 '20 at 23:28
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    @cbeleitesunhappywithSX I understand why you dislike it, but that doesn't make it criminal which is my point, and I don't think your answer will lose value by removing that (or adding a source which says that if someone does that, they may be committing an offence). And then on CEO side, there is no way for OP to remember everyone they've been in touch with since, especially across multiple days, so that is likely what the concern was so people who were in contact, but forgotten, can now act on it - while otherwise they would find out, but later and via grapevine. Two sides to any story. Sep 29 '20 at 23:34
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    @TymoteuszPaul: without knowing how exactly French law implements EU GDPR, the data we're talking about is special category personal data (Art 9 GDPR). Violations against Art. 9 are in the more serious category for which Art. 83 5. lists fines up to max (20 M€; 4 % of annual turnover). Now, I see only 2 possibilities that would make this particular email not violate Art. 9 GDPR. a) the health authorities telling CEO to send such an email and b) France having a "Corona law" that requires the CEO to send any such email. From my German perspective, I'd think both rather unlikely. At least here, Sep 30 '20 at 0:06
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    the health authorities would interview OP about their contacts, including at work (Q looks as if something like that happened). If the situation is sufficiently murky that the health authorities think there may have been further contacts, it is their part to dig deeper. In contrast to the CEO, the health officers are authorized to handle such very vulnerable heath information. Plus they have the authority to act and tell people to get a test, go into quarantine, ... (which the CEO cannot). Yes, the employer has a duty to protect their employees and has to take certain measures. Again, at ... Sep 30 '20 at 0:13
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    Most countries have a medical reporting duty, so the company will have to report to the medical services, perhaps also to other services of the government. Exposing the infected person directly (i.e. not via medical services) to the whole company looks (but IANAL) like a clear breach of European Data Protection laws. It is ok if medical services contact individual people for quarantining. Outside of this, only people in OP's direct chain of command might be rightfully informed without OP's consent. Sep 30 '20 at 0:19

This is a tricky situation. While under normal circumstances disclosing your illness would be not acceptable at all, we are not in times that can be classified as normal and covid is not run of the mill medical problem either.

A few hours later, the CEO sent an e-mail to the whole firm about my situation, giving my name and the 2 other people's names, without my consent. He was asking people to be careful and respect the safety protocols.

While certainly your boss should've obtained your consent before sending out this email, I can understand why he did act on it this way instead. Namely most of the guidelines offered are around how important it is for people to isolate when possibly exposed to covid in order prevent further spread, and while it is great that you have reached out to everyone you remember being in contact with it is never going to be a complete list, where that mass email this will reach out to everyone, including those you may have forgotten about.

It's not without precedent either, while confidentiality about medical issues is important, sometimes protecting others takes over. See HCPC website for example of that for the UK. While I cannot read minds, I am sure that what the CEO was worried about is further spred so that's why he did what he did, and did not intend you any harm.

It is far from perfect, I cannot express enough how I dislike the fact that he did not reach out for your consent ahead of time, but now it's water under the bridge as we don't have time machines to go back in time.

Should I do something about it ?

Depends on what exactly do you want to achieve.

If you want to get an apology from the CEO, I would shoot him a short email thanking for his concern and highlighting the issue to all of the employees, but also mentioning that he should've asked you first before naming you. Maybe add that you would've given that consent, though that may come out as passive-aggressive if worded incorrectly.

If you want something tangible benefits, like a financial gain, hire a lawyer and see what they have to say, though I wouldn't keep my hopes up, as this will for sure cost you any future with the company and I can't imagine how this could possibly net you any sensible windfall. But then I am not expert on French law, ask a lawyer if you are really keen on exploring this.

And most importantly take all the rest you need and get well soon enough!


The easiest and safest option is to let it go.

The CEO did not deal with the situation acceptably but you have little to gain by trying to fight them over the issue. Meanwhile, you could jeopardise a job opportunity and, if you are very unlucky, a good reference.

Note: This answer is based on a UK perspective, not a French perspective.

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