It Is Our Duty To Warn

It Is Our Duty To Warn
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As a mental health professional, I am a mandated reporter and have a duty to warn potential victims if I believe that my client may be in imminent danger of harming others. In fact, it is my duty to warn the victim even if it means breaking confidentiality. The danger must be imminent and the report should be made to someone who is in a position to reduce the risk of the danger, such as law enforcement and the intended victim. I have not been told that the duty extends to Covid19 and the duty to protect others from communicable diseases. But don’t we all have an ethical duty to prevent harm to others?

Our current knowledge of Covid19 leads us to believe that it is a highly contagious and potentially deadly virus. Even asymptomatic carriers can be contagious.

My sister-in-law told me of her concern while frequenting an outdoor restaurant with friends. The owner of the establishment chose not to wear a mask while preparing or serving food, and also chose not to enforce these precautions with her staff. My sister-in-law felt unsafe and wondered who to address her complaints to.

What happens when a business won’t follow the guidelines? People may file complaints if businesses are not following mask guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19, but local health agencies have limited power to enforce rules. Their actions generally take the form of education and requests, rather than enforcement.

I intended to gather with my family for pumpkin decorating last weekend. It was canceled because the hosts didn’t feel well. They wrongly assumed that they were experiencing side effects following a preventative flu shots. However, they subsequently learned they had been exposed to Covid19 on the job without realizing it. They both tested positive for Covid19, having been exposed on the job, but neither had been warned about the exposure from their employers.

Employers are caught between a duty of privacy and a duty to warn. Covid19 presents new, unanticipated liability risks for employers. An employer’s duty to warn of a known risk of Covid19 infection needs to be weighed against another legal duty placed on employers – the duty to maintain the medical privacy rights of its employees.

My Covid19 positive family members did not wait for their employers to take action. They took it upon themselves to contact their co-workers with whom they had had close contact. This then allowed their co-workers the opportunity to quarantine and get tested to safeguard their circle of contacts.

Contact tracing is used by health departments to prevent the spread of infectious diseases. It slows the spread of infection. For contact tracing protocol, see Contact Tracing by the CDC, June 21, 2020,

It’s a moral responsibility to protect others from coronavirus.  Even if we are not worried about our own health, it is our moral responsibility to protect others whose bodies may not be able to fight off the virus as easily. Covid19 symptoms are mild for most, but severe for some.

If you witness regulation violations, consider reporting it to your local health department. If you suspect you have Covid19, self-isolate, and get tested. Give your contacts a heads up on a possible spread of infection.

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