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EEOC Guidance for Employers in Response to COVID-19

March 25, 2020

Considering the recent COVID-19 pandemic, the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) has published guidelines employers must keep in mind when dealing with coronavirus cases in the workplace.

According to the publication, employers, who are covered by the ADA, must make decisions based on what’s happening, not their own speculations. They should keep safety concerns in mind, but they must stay updated with the latest developments to prioritize their employees’ safety.

Employers need to remember the ADA medical exam and inquiry rules need to be followed when they’re examining the situation in their respective workplaces.

They must look for objective evidence before deciding to investigate an employee who can pose a direct threat to other employees. Employees shouldn’t be put through medical screening procedures unless there’s evidence they have been exposed to the virus and they’re showing symptoms of COVID-19.

Since the World Health Organization (WHO) has declared coronavirus to be a global pandemic, the publication also has a separate section addressing the concerns of employers regarding what needs to be done after a pandemic is declared.

If an employee has called in sick, ADA-covered employers can ask them if they are experiencing common COVID-19 symptoms. These include chills, coughing, fever, sore throat, or shortness of breath. However, they must keep any information about their employee’s illness a confidential medical record – in compliance with the ADA.

Since health authorities and the CDC have issued precautions and acknowledged the community-wide spreading of COVID-19, employers can measure an employee’s body temperature to make sure no one’s health is at risk. However, they should note some people with coronavirus may not have a fever.

Any employees showing symptoms of COVID-19 are required by the CDC to stay home. Employers can safely act on this advice without any interference from the ADA. Upon the affected employee’s return to work, employers are allowed by the ADA to ask them for doctors’ notes, which certify they’re fit to resume their duties.

If healthcare professionals can’t provide them with fitness-for-duty documents due to their busy schedules, which can be the case during a pandemic outbreak, employers are required to take a different approach. They may rely on local clinics for an email, form, or stamp, which certifies the employee doesn’t have the coronavirus and can safely return to work.

Guidelines also state employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations to employees that have known limitations due to their disabilities – even during this pandemic.

The only exception to this is for cases where providing accommodations to employees will pose undue hardships for the employer and have a significant effect on their business, i.e. it can lead to added expenses for the employer, considering the cost and nature of the requested accommodation and the availability of resources.