As the Coronavirus continues to spread throughout the United States employers are having to address a number of questions about managing and protecting their workforce. Included on the ever-growing list of items keeping managers up at night are concerns about compliance with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and state disability discrimination statutes when developing plans to limit spread of the disease within the workplace.
The EEOC recently issued a bulletin, reminding employers that it already has guidelines in place for employers to follow when responding to the threat of pandemic illness in the workplace. That guidance document focuses primarily on employer compliance with the ADA and discusses a number of actions employers may be considering when confronted with the threat of a highly communicable disease within its community. The document contains a Question and Answer section addressing a number of actions employers often consider when responding to infectious illnesses. The topics covered include whether new hires and current employees may be tested for exposure; whether new hires and current employees may be asked to provide medical histories to identify those who may be “high risk” for infection or adverse consequences; and whether new hires and current employees may be required to submit to a medical examination.
The EEOC’s recent bulletin assured employers that actions undertaken in the workforce at the CDC’s recommendation will not constitute a violation of the ADA. Written CDC guidance regarding the Coronavirus does exist and is found here. I recommend employers review these materials to become familiar with some of the potential legal issues that may arise in the workplace as we all address this emergency. Your managers from various departments (i.e, not just HR Managers) should take time to discuss other workforce related concerns that might arise during the spread of the virus, list those and if necessary consult with your legal counsel to gain some insight on how to address them.
If you would further information on this or any other matter, you may contact John Lawhorn at (865) 546-9321.
John M. Lawhorn of Frantz, McConnell & Seymour, LLP practices extensively in the field of Labor and Employment law and regularly advises clients concerning federal and state laws pertaining to employment discrimination, retaliation and harassment, workplace policies, OSHA/TOSHA compliance, wage and hour compliance, labor/management relations, employment contracts and in many other aspects of the employment field. He regularly represents employer and employee interests in Tennessee State and federal courts on a wide variety of employment related matters.