As the Coronavirus situation evolves, we are aware of growing concerns from employers on the necessary steps they should take to protect their employees and themselves. While there is a steady flow of new information on public health risks, as of February 11, 2020 the World Health Organization has declared a global emergency. Employers should be prepared for all of the issues that will inevitably arise from either the virus itself or anxieties related to its spread.
The Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration division (DOL OSHA) recognizes that “exposure risk may be elevated for some workers who interact with potentially infected travelers from abroad,” particularly those in healthcare. The virus resembles the common cold in that it is spread by droplets that often are transmitted when a person coughs or sneezes. The virus has an incubation period of at least two weeks. Per recommendation of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), employees who have symptoms of acute respiratory illness are recommended to stay home and not come to work until they are free of fever. The CDC suggests for employees to actively encourage employees to stay home if they are exhibiting any symptoms. Additionally, the CDC directly states that employers are not to require a healthcare provider’s note for employees who are sick with acute respiratory illness to validate their illness or to return to work. This is due to healthcare provider offices and medical facilities being extremely busy during this time and that they might not be able to provide such documentation in a timely manner.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) released a document entitled “Pandemic Preparedness in the Workplace and the Americans with Disabilities Act,” as guidance for employers. While employers concerned about the virus should take appropriate measures to help employees and clients stay clear of it, they should be cautious in engaging in discriminatory practices or speech. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which protects applicants and employees from disability discrimination, prohibits an employer from making disability-related inquiries and requiring medical examinations of employees, except under limited circumstances. The ADA requires reasonable accommodations for individuals during a pandemic, meaning employers should adjust the work environment to allow an individual equal opportunity to perform a job’s essential functions.
New York State residents can call the New York State Coronavirus Hotline at 1-888-364-3065, where experts can answer questions regarding the novel coronavirus. Additional guidance for employers can be found on the CDC and EEOC websites, or by contacting our office. Sinayskaya Yuniver P.C is committed to the safety and wellbeing of our clients, and plans to provide support and guidance in any way possible throughout this situation. Please contact our office at 718-402-2240 with any additional questions.