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Boston apologizes after 'accidentally' disclosing vaccination status of about 100 employees

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Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

The City of Boston has apologized after sending an email blast that disclosed the vaccination status and positive coronavirus tests of dozens of people.

On Jan. 18, the city's human resources department sent an email to about 100 employees noting that the recipients were unvaccinated and had previously tested positive for COVID-19. But the names and email addresses of each recipient was visible, disclosing the vaccination status of everyone who received the email.

“Under the City’s earlier policy, you submitted information related to a positive COVID-19 test result,” said the email, which was obtained by the Boston Herald.

“As continued testing is no longer allowed under the Policy, please be aware that you are required to become vaccinated in order to comply with the Policy if you have not already done so,” the city told employees, alerting them that they would be placed on unpaid leave if they do not comply with the city's vaccine mandate for municipal workers.

The mistake was noticed shortly after the email was sent.

“Unintentionally and accidentally, we messed up,” the HR department wrote to the employees in a follow-up email. "The communication was intended to be sent as a BCC so as to respect employees’ privacy. The wrong button got pushed and so the email was sent showing all email addresses.”

According to the Herald, the deadline for employees to get vaccinated has been delayed twice pending a court challenge, negotiations with municipal labor unions, and ongoing protests. But outrage over the city disclosing who wasn't vaccinated prompted an apology from officials.

“We apologize for the error,” the city wrote days after revealing who was unvaccinated. “We truly do take employees’ privacy interests seriously and have reviewed and improved our practices and guidelines to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”

The HR department explained that the original email was supposed to be sent as a blind carbon copy, which would have hidden the identities of each recipient. The message was intended to let unvaccinated workers know about the impending deadline to avoid being placed on leave.

"We will do better. We thank you for your understanding,” the city said.

But the incident has frustrated workers who have had their privacy violated.

“All of these people now know people’s business,” said Elissa Cadillic, a member of the Boston Public Libary workers union, who mentioned the email at a recent city council hearing.

“I don’t want an email saying ‘oops, we messed up’ — I want to know what the process is and why this happened," she said, demanding accountability.

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