Employer Guidance for Responding to the Coronavirus Threat – Update II

On March 11, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the Coronavirus outbreak a global pandemic. The CDC has also declared the Coronavirus outbreak a pandemic so several modified requirements are now applicable under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Below is a reference summary of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) guidance on employer obligations under the ADA during a pandemic:

May an employer send employees home if they display Coronavirus-like symptoms during a pandemic?  

Yes. Advising such workers to go home is not a disability-related action if the illness is akin to seasonal influenza or the 2009 spring/summer H1N1 virus.

During a pandemic, may employers ask employees who do not have Coronavirus symptoms to disclose whether they have a medical condition that the CDC says could make them especially vulnerable to influenza complications?

If a pandemic illness becomes more severe or serious according to the assessment of local, state or federal public health officials, and employers have sufficient objective information from public health advisories to reasonably conclude that employees will face a direct threat if they contract the illness, employers may make disability-related inquiries to identify those at higher risk of complications related to the illness.

During a pandemic, how much information may an employer request from employees who report feeling ill at work or who call in sick?

Employers may ask employees if they are experiencing influenza-like symptoms, such as fever or chills and a cough or sore throat. Employee confidentiality must be maintained.

During a pandemic, may an employer take its employees’ temperatures to determine whether they have a fever?  

If the outbreak becomes ‘widespread’ in the employer’s local community, as assessed by state or local health authorities or the CDC, employers may measure employees’ body temperature.

During a pandemic, may an employer require its employees to wear personal protective equipment (e.g., face masks, gloves, or gowns) designed to reduce the transmission of pandemic infection?

Yes. 

During a pandemic, must an employer continue to provide reasonable accommodations for employees with known disabilities that are unrelated to the pandemic, barring undue hardship?

Yes — during a pandemic, certain disability-related inquiries are justified under the ADA standards. Employers are still obligated to adhere to other ADA requirements, such as providing reasonable accommodations.

If you require further detail or guidance on what is or is not permissible during a pandemic, please contact a member of our Labor & Employment Group.

  • Melanie  Cheek
    Associate

    Melanie Cheek is an associate in the firm’s Labor & Employment Group where she helps clients meet their business objectives and minimize liability. Her practice currently includes a wide range of labor and employment matters.

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