With all of the recent news coverage regarding the Ebola outbreak and its entry into the United States, employers need to be prepared to answer related questions and handle related issues. The CDC has stated that the 2014 Ebola epidemic is the largest in history, affecting multiple countries in West Africa, and advises of the specific symptoms and dangers of Ebola.1
- Employers should be aware of the OSHA and CDC guidance available, and should communicate with employees and customers to reaffirm that health and safety concerns are taken very seriously and that all legal actions will be taken to protect them. OSHA has specific guidelines, based on the CDC recommendations, for healthcare workers, airline and travel industry personnel, mortuary workers, lab workers, border and custom workers, emergency responders, and critical sector employees (transportation, pharmacists, etc.) which should be reviewed by employers of those workers.
- The following are some steps which may and may not be taken to protect employees, customer, and the public, depending upon the circumstances: 1. Consider work-related travel destinations and require only absolutely necessary business travel to affected geographical areas. 2. Ask employees about travel plans. If an employee intends to travel to a place where they may potentially be exposed to Ebola, then an employer may ask whether the employee had contact with any infected persons, and whether the employee is experiencing any symptoms.
- The questions should be limited to avoid inquiry which would require revelation of a disability and violate the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
- If an employee has been exposed to Ebola, an employer cannot impose quarantine.
- Remind all employees of basic practices which are important during the winter flu season (i.e., washing hands often, getting a flu shot, etc.).
- Notify employees of potential hazards of Ebola.
- Provide employees with reasonable means to abate the hazards of Ebola. If there is a real fear of contracting Ebola in the workplace, fearful employees may be protected if they refuse to work, and legal counsel should be obtained to help to deal with such a refusal.
If you have any further questions or concerns about the information contained in this Advisory you should not hesitate to contact us.
1 United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, www.cdc.gov/vhf/ebola. 2 United States Department of Labor, Occupational Safety & Health Administration, Ebola Control and Prevention, www.osha.gov/SLTC/ebola/control_prevention.html.