The nursing profession is built on trust, ethics, and the quality of patient care. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) is a federal law protecting patients' privacy and health information. All healthcare providers, including nurses, undergo training on proper conduct to avoid violating this law.

There are several forms of HIPAA violations that nurses commit and could compromise the data security and privacy of the patients. These could include disclosing patient information, improper disposal of the records, and exposing sensitive data to unauthorized individuals.

Although some of these violations are accidental, the consequences of the breach can have far-reaching effects on your nursing license and career. If you are reported to the California Board of Nursing for a HIPAA violation, you will undergo a series of investigations and attend a board hearing to defend your license.

While fighting to avoid severe disciplinary action and protect your nursing license, you must hire and retain a competent license-defense attorney for guidance. Your attorney will help you investigate the facts of the alleged violation and build a defense to present to the board.

Consequences of HIPAA Violations in California

Healthcare facilities depend on medical professionals to maintain high compliance standards with state and federal regulations. Although the rules are strict, human error may be unavoidable when offering care and support to patients. Licensed nurses in California play a critical role in the healthcare sector and could make mistakes, including HIPAA violations.

As a nursing professional, you violate HIPAA laws by engaging in any conduct that goes against the protection of confidential patient information. A HIPAA violation could be deliberate or unintentional, depending on the circumstances under which the information reaches the unauthorized person. In most cases, the consequences of your violation could involve civil and criminal action.

When a HIPAA violation is reported to the California Board of Nursing, the board will perform independent investigations to determine the authenticity of the allegations. Your violation can be reported by a patient who feels violated by your actions or another healthcare professional.

When the investigations by the board are complete, an administrative hearing is held. At this hearing, you can deny or admit to the allegations. Additionally, you can fight to prove that you did not commit HIPAA violations. At an administrative hearing, the board will call upon witnesses and review the testimony provided against you.

With the guidance of a reliable license-defense attorney, you can present your evidence and cross-examine the witnesses. When the hearing is completed, the board will decide on the right course of action, depending on the circumstances of your case.

Some of the factors that could impact the type of disciplinary action you face include:

  1. Whether You Committed a Security of Privacy Violation

The US Department of Health and Human Services has two principal regulations, which include the HIPAA privacy rule and the HIPAA security rules. These regulations work together to ensure that patients feel safe while seeking medical care and maintain the confidentiality of their information. The exact rule you violate will play a significant role in the type of punishment you face:

Violation of the HIPAA Privacy Rule

The HIPAA privacy rule was implemented to regulate access to patient information. Patient health information is commonly known as protected health information under the privacy rule. The main goal of this regulation is to ensure the free flow of medical information without it landing in unauthorized hands.

Additionally, it allows patients to control their information and who can access it. Individuals allowed to access patient information are covered entities arranged by healthcare practitioners, business associates, and healthcare plan providers.

Violation of the HIPAA Security Rule

The security rule is set to safeguard electronically protected information and does not apply to information shared orally or in writing. This regulation requires entities and professionals to ensure maximum confidentiality of the information stored or transferred electronically. The HIPAA security rule is a significant concern for professionals and healthcare facilities handling large patient data volumes.

The consequences you will face for violating the safety and well-being of a patient could differ from the consequences of violating the privacy rule.

  1. The Specific Violation You Committed

There are many ways in which a nurse can commit a HIPAA violation. Different violations can have varying effects on a patient’s well-being. The legal and disciplinary action that will be taken against you after the violation will depend on the specific violation you commit. Common HIPAA violations include:

Unauthorized Disclosure

For non-medical professionals, gossiping and ranting about work problems to coworkers, family, and friends is not harmful. However, engaging in such conduct in nursing is illegal and violates HIPAA. During the treatment process, patients will provide critical and confidential information that you can only share with people if they are involved in patient management.

You commit a HIPAA violation through unauthorized exposure, even when you are heard sharing information about a patient with someone else. While the information may be shared compassionately and with no intention of harming the patient, a report to the nursing board can have dire consequences for your profession.

Insecure Storage

All protected health information must be stored in safe locations away from access by unauthorized parties. You can be cited for a HIPAA violation when you store the records improperly and another person accesses them. Simple acts, like forgetting to lock a cabinet containing a patient’s file, can result in disciplinary action.

Improper Record Protection

Nurses have access to numerous records and information about patients. As a nurse, you must protect this information by ensuring it does not reach unauthorized hands. For example, if you leave a monitor running with patient information on display, another person can access the information, and this act constitutes a HIPAA violation.

Unapproved Channels

Software developers understand the HIPAA rules as they design different medical programs. For this reason, nurses should use these channels to ensure proper data transfer. Nurses could violate HIPAA by using unsafe or non-approved data transfer channels, which increases the risk of patient information leakage.

Failure to Report

HIPAA violations can be reported by patients who feel violated by your conduct or by other medical professionals. As you provide your devices in different facilities, you must report any HIPAA violation you witness. Failure to report even the slightest violation could result in disciplinary action.

  1. Whether your Violation is Accidental or Intentional

Another factor that could impact your fate after a HIPAA violation is the determination of whether the violation was deliberate or accidental. Even when nurses comply with all codes of conduct, they may be subject to human error, resulting in accidental HIPAA violations.

Employers handle most accidental violations without the need to report to the board. However, even when a report is made, and the board determines that you took the necessary measures to prevent the violation, you can avoid harsh consequences.

Penalties for HIPAA Violations for Nurses

If you are reported for a minor violation, the California Board of Nursing prefers to deal with the matter using non-punitive measures. These could include issuing technical guidance, verbal warnings, and sending you back to a court that teaches the HIPAA guidelines. However, in cases where the violation is severe or is repeated, you can face multiple penalties, including fines and the loss of your nursing license.

There are four main categories used to structure the appropriate penalties and disciplinary action for nurses found in violation of HIPAA, including:

  • Tier 1. This type of violation occurs when the professional is unaware that their conduct violates the regulations, and they can do nothing to prevent it. The BRN is more lenient on professionals who commit Tier 1 violations.
  • Tier 2. Tier two covers violations a nurse should have known about but could not avoid even when they take reasonable care.
  • Tier 3. The violations in this category result from willful neglect of the HIPAA regulations, and there have been attempts to rectify the mistake.
  • Tier 4. These are violations consisting of willful neglect with no attempts to rectify the violation.


Each category of HIPAA violations has specific and varying penalties that could be imposed. Monetary fines are a standard penalty for nurses who violate HIPAA. The length of your violation and the time taken to report it could significantly determine the severity of the fines you will face. The penalties you will face in this case range from a minimum of $100 for a Tier 1 violation to up to $50,000 for a Tier 4 violation.

Nursing License Probation

If your HIPAA violation is not severe enough to warrant a suspension or revocation of your nursing license, the Board of Nursing could place you on professional probation. Often, this could be an outcome of your case when the HIPAA violation you committed was involuntary or accidental.

Professional probation lasts for up to three years. Unlike license suspension or revocation, you can continue to practice and offer your nursing services. However, there are some restrictions that you must follow, including:

  • Obey all laws and avoid additional HIPAA violations.
  • Comply with the probation program. While on professional probation, you must coordinate with the board to monitor your progress throughout the probation period.
  • Report to the board. A nursing license holder must report in person for interviews, as the BRN requires during.
  • Employment limitations. If you are placed on probation for your HIPAA violations, the board will impose limitations on where you can provide your care. Additionally, you may be required to seek permission from the board to offer your service outside California.
  • Complete the relevant courses. As a registered nurse, you must be aware of the HIPAA regulations to ensure that you maintain the confidentiality of patient information. Therefore, if you are on probation for these violations, you will be preferred to attend a nursing course where the regulations are taught.

Loss of a Nursing License

Nurses will be continually educated on HIPAA guidelines before receiving a license to practice in the state. Violating these regulations can result in various consequences, including fines, probation, and warnings. The most dreaded consequence of a HIPAA violation is the loss of your professional license. Becoming a licensed nurse takes years of education and dedication.

Unfortunately, you can lose all that when your license is suspended or revoked due to a HIPAA violation. In most cases, the California Board of Nursing will take this form of disciplinary action if your violation is severe and seriously affects the patient’s well-being. You can lose your nursing license for a HIPAA violation through:

License Suspension

A license suspension is a standard disciplinary action the California Board of Nursing could take against you after you are found guilty of a HIPAA violation. If your license is suspended, you will receive a written order requiring you to cease working. Unlike revocation, professional license suspension is a temporary action. Therefore, you can reinstate it after the suspension period has ended.

Your actions after receiving an order to suspend your nursing license could significantly impact your ability to reinstate it. The following are steps you must take to reinstate your nursing license after a suspension for a HIPAA violation:

  • Check for eligibility. You can only reinstate your license after the period of suspension has elapsed. Additionally, you must have completed the required programs for continued education.
  • Complete necessary documentation. The second step for individuals seeking to reinstate a suspended nursing license is to complete your petition for the reinstatement and attach other documents. The application and supporting documents are to be sent to the board.
  • Attending a show cause Your license is suspended if your actions go against your nursing profession's recommended code of conduct. Before your license is reinstated, you must attend a show cause hearing where you can disapprove of the board’s notion that you cannot obey the set laws. While having legal guidance is critical as you seek a license reinstatement, you must be sure to attend the hearing.
  • Address the concerns of the board. You must be willing to prove to the Board of Nursing that you acknowledge the mistakes you made and are willing to remedy the problem. If the reason for your license suspension was a HIPAA violation, you must show your willingness to comply with the set regulations and ensure that patient information remains confidential.

License Revocation

A revocation of your professional license is the highest level of disciplinary action that you can face for a HIPAA violation in California. If your license is revoked, you can no longer practice as a nurse. Additionally, you may be prohibited from using the nurse title. You will need expert legal guidance if you are under investigation for a serious HIPAA violation. The lawyer will help you prepare for your administrative hearing and avoid a revocation of your license.

Can a HIPAA Violation be Grounds for Employment Termination?

Yes. Depending on the nature and severity of your HIPAA violation, you can lose your job. Another factor your employer may consider before terminating your contract is your compliance with HIPAA regulations and their facility's policies.

However, not all HIPAA violations carry the same weight. When other employees or patients report a HIPAA violation to a healthcare facility, the facility will investigate the incident to determine whether your conduct qualifies as a violation. Additionally, the investigation will uncover whether your violation was accidental or intentional.

Unintentional violations occur when you error or share information with another professional in good faith. Some healthcare facilities are strict on HIPAA violations, and you could lose your job. If your violation is not severe, your employer can issue a verbal or written warning to ensure you do not engage in similar conduct.

Your HIPAA violations remain on your record, and repeating the conduct in the future could be used to terminate you. Further violations of the regulations may indicate your disregard for federal and company laws.

Find a Competent License Defense Lawyer Near Me

Nursing is a career that is held in high regard by society. Before obtaining a nursing license to practice in California, you must agree to a specific code of conduct to ensure the safety of the patients to whom you attend. A HIPAA violation is one of the hurdles that no nursing professional wants to face in their career. A HIPAA violation will result in a stressful investigation by the California Board of Nursing and severe disciplinary action if you are found to have committed the violation.

The consequences of your HIPAA violation vary depending on the severity of your actions. The disciplinary action can range from word-of-mouth warnings to suspension or revocation of your nursing license. Losing your license for a HIPAA violation will impact not only your career but also your livelihood.

Having a trusted license-defense attorney by your side can make a massive difference in the outcome of your board hearing and your professional life. At The Legal Guardian, we offer expert legal guidance for clients seeking to protect their professional licenses in Long Beach, CA. Call us today at 866-448-6811 to discuss your case.