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Addressing coronavirus issues with workers is a balancing act

| Apr 21, 2020 | Employment Law |

The current pandemic is uprooting business operations across America and the world. As companies deal with an onslaught of change, it can be hard for them to keep pace, especially regarding their workers’ safety.

Talking about COVID-19 effectively and appropriately with workers can be difficult. Luckily, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is addressing common questions employers have about the virus and how they should and shouldn’t address issues that arise.

Can I take my employees’ temperatures if they come into work?

Yes. If workers are physically present at the business, the employer can take their temperature as they walk in the door. Employers can also ask those physically coming into the workplace if they have COVID-19, have symptoms associated with COVID-19 or if they’ve received tests for COVID-19.

However, if a business can have their employees work from home, they should avoid asking such questions.

Can I send a worker home if they think they have the coronavirus?

If an employee shows signs or symptoms regarding the coronavirus, the employer can send them home. That’s because their illness could put the health and safety of other workers and their families at risk.

What if an employee doesn’t comply with these measures?

Many employers are conducting these measures for safety reasons. However, workers are often wary of handing out private medical information. Because of this, some may refuse to get their temperature taken or answer any questions regarding COVID-19 symptoms. If that’s the case, employers should proceed with caution. First, they may want to ask the worker what their concerns are about answering these questions. They may also want to remind the worker employers cannot disclose their condition to others under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA).

If I ask one of my workers about COVID-19, do I have to ask all of them about it?

It depends on the circumstances. If an employer reasonably believes and has objective evidence that a worker has COVID-19, they can ask the worker about their symptoms.

For instance, if the worker has a persistent hacking cough, the employer may ask the employee about:

  • The cough itself
  • Whether or not they’re seeking medical attention
  • Whether or not they think they have COVID-19

It is acceptable for employers to ask about the symptom because it could indicate their illness. On the other hand, if a worker seems more “distracted” than usual, it’s typically not permissible to ask them about COVID-19 symptoms.

Can I ask workers if their loved one or someone they know has the virus?

As asking workers about their family’s medical history violates the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA), addressing this question can be tricky. However, employers can approach these matters using general terms. For instance, an employer can ask workers if they know anyone who comes in contact with the virus. This way, they can get the information they need without directly addressing an employee’s family medical issues.

Employers can benefit from legal guidance

Keeping up with labor regulations can be a lot for businesses in this uncertain climate. Because of this, they may benefit from the advice of an employment law attorney. They can address any questions and concerns their clients may have.