Employer’s Rights and Responsibilities During a Pandemic

Magnified image of the coronavirus that blends into an office setting with employees in their cubicles
Magnified image of the coronavirus that blends into an office setting with employees in their cubicles

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) created a guide in 2009 in response to the H1N1 flu pandemic. Recently, on March 20th, 2020, the EEOC addressed the COVID-19 Pandemic. The EEOC laws were updated in response to the March 11th, 2020, declaration of a pandemic from the World Health Organization (WHO).

CDC Guidelines Do Not Affect EEOC Laws

Emergency Planning

In preparedness planning, it is crucial to identify the needs of all employees and avoid excluding those with disabilities.

Questions to ask your employees

  1. If public transportation were not available or sporadic, would you be able to travel to and from work?
  2. Do you or a member of your household fall into one of the categories identified by the CDC as being high risk for severe complications due to a pandemic illness, where you would be advised not to come to work?
  3. Are you the primary caregiver for a child or person who could not care for themselves if a pandemic caused daycare, schools, and other community care services to close?

Questions and Actions Permitted During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Question mark on a chalkboard
Question mark on a chalkboard

Scenario 1: During COVID-19, public transit is unreliable in many parts of the United States. Three employees utilize the public transit system to get to and from work. Two of the three have a noted disability in their file; one of the two has a disability that prevents them from driving. Do you need to provide accommodations for all employees equally?

  • Ex 1: The person without a disability who relies on public transportation.

It would be up to that individual to find a way to get to work and meet the expectations of their job.

  • Ex 2: A person who has a disability that doesn’t limit their ability to drive.

Businesses are not required to make an accommodation that is not directly related to a disability.

  • Ex 3: A person has a disability that limits or prevents them from driving

The employer needs to find a reasonable way to accommodate the employee. Reasonable accommodations could be providing transportation to and from the workplace, adjusting the employee’s hours to meet the transportation schedule, or permit the employee to work from home with reasonable accommodations.

Screening Employees, Quarantine, and More

Can you require an employee to submit to a daily temperature screening or other health screening?

Can you ask a person who has been absent from work due to symptoms of COVID-19 for a note from the doctor to return to work?

Can you require employees to self-quarantine if they visited one of the epicenters for the COVID-19 outbreak?

Face mask and gloves on the ground
Face mask and gloves on the ground

Employer’s Responsibility to Employees with a Medical Disability

  • First, the health and wellbeing of the employee need to be at the forefront of the employer’s mind. Exploring ways for the employee to self-isolate in the workplace is a good place to start, especially since all organizations should be following the CDC guidance on distancing between employees.
  • If a workplace solution isn’t viable, perhaps there is a different job that would permit telecommuting. In times of uncertainty, employers can reach out to the EEOC or The Job Accommodation Network (JAN) for guidance in employee placement.

We are in uncharted waters. The critical thing to remember is to have a plan in place that covers all of your employees equally. The information and resources provided are a brief overview of the EEOC’s ADA guidelines and is not a replacement for legal advice.

This post was written by Christine Sket.

Originally published at https://brailleworks.com on April 16, 2020.

Providing ADA compliant materials for your customers. Braille, Large Print, Audio & Accessible PDF Services. https://brailleworks.com/

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