With an active flu season well underway and concern growing over the spread of potentially deadly coronavirus infections outside of China, it’s a good time to re-emphasize your contagious disease health response plan with all of your employees.
The Centers for Disease Control has numerous wellness and safety templates and information packets you can customize and distribute to your team. www.flu.gov/plan/workplaceplanning/toolkit.html
But there are also potential legal risks associated with outbreaks like the coronavirus. Check with counsel and your insurance partner to be sure you have covered all your bases, but here are three top-line travel-related considerations:
- Sending an employee to a high-risk area during this outbreak creates legal exposure under OSHA’s General Duty Clause. A travel ban is in effect for the epicenter of this outbreak in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China. But cases of the disease are already confirmed well outside of China and history shows that travel bans are ineffective at slowing the spread of easily transmitted viruses. Employers whose business involves travel to China or other areas subject to travel restrictions should explore alternatives for the duration of the threat, such as videoconferencing.
- Personal travel gets even more tricky, because it brings in the ADA. Demanding employees restrict private activities, including travel to high-risk areas, out of fear they might later become ill or disabled, might expose you to a disability discrimination claim. Provide all information, share expert recommendations, but avoid banning personal travel outright.
- An important caveat: You can require that anyone traveling to those areas or who is otherwise at higher risk of exposure get examined before returning to work. Not everyone infected with the virus will show symptoms but they will still pose a risk of infecting others. ADA’s prohibitions on medical inquiries and required exams stop when an employee might pose a direct health threat to others.