What can employers ask workers and disclose to them about the coronavirus? The EEOC recently hosted a webinar offering much-needed guidelines to employers on a host of topics that are upending businesses as they navigate through the pandemic.
Temperature checks: Employers can take employees’ temperatures during the pandemic, as long as they establish a consistent process for the procedure.
Families off limits: It’s best practice to only ask if an employee has had contact with anyone with the virus and avoid asking specifically about a worker’s family. The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) prohibits firms from requesting such info.
Sending employees home: If an employee refuses to answer questions related to the virus or to have their temperature taken, they can be barred from the workplace since their presence would pose a “direct threat to health or safety,” said EEOC Attorney Sharon Rennert.
Disclosing employees’ exposure
Firms need to inform staffers if a staffer has or has been exposed to the coronavirus, without identifying the person. But the employer needs to get a list of people with whom the infected employee has had contact, so they can inform them directly.
Keep it confidential: The afflicted employee’s identity should only be shared with a few key people within the firm, “making every effort to limit the number of people who get to know the name,” says EEOC Attorney Jeanne Goldberg. Otherwise, firms could possibly run afoul of the ADA.
The EEOC is uncertain at this time whether COVID-19 is a disability under the ADA, which would normally require employers to provide reasonable accommodations. But the agency has asked that employers give requests their prompt attention.
Wearing a face mask: If wearing a mask is the only accommodation that’ll sufficiently reduce any threat to the employee, employers are obligated to allow it unless it would interfere with the person’s ability to perform an essential job function.
Working from home: Firms aren’t obligated to grant a WFH accommodation unless employees are at greater risk of COVID-19 due to preexisting disabilities, are pregnant or are over 65. But they need to treat such requests as they normally would through the interactive process.