The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recently issued guidance for businesses in King, Pierce and Snohomish Counties. The CDC’s guidance encourages extensive mitigation activities in these areas to help combat the spread of COVID-19. Additionally, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) released updated guidance to help employers keep their workplaces safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The CDC guidance recommends every Seattle-area employer implement the following strategies:
- Encourage staff to telework
- Expand sick leave policies
- Implement social distancing measures by spacing workers, staggering work schedules, limiting in-person meetings, thoroughly disinfecting break or eating areas
- Eliminate large non-work gatherings
- Postpone non-essential work travel
- Conduct regular health checks on arrival each day (e.g., temperature and respiratory system screening) of staff and visitors entering buildings;
- Ensure flexible leave arrangements for staff who need to stay home, including for school closures, and encourage people to stay home when they are sick
- Cancel work sponsored conference/trade shows
Although most of these recommendations are consistent with previous guidance from the CDC, the recommendation that employers conduct employee health screenings is new. Previously, health checks of employees raised potential concerns under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA protects employees from employer inquiries into an employee’s medical status or from employer-conducted medical examinations. Taking an employee’s temperature can be considered a medical examination, and the practice is generally prohibited except when job-related or consistent with business necessity.
Although the EEOC’s Pandemic Preparedness Guidance (issued in 2009 in connection with the H1N1 virus) cautions employers against taking employee temperatures, the CDC now advises employers in King, Snohomish and Pierce counties to conduct regular employee health screenings, including by taking temperatures. The EEOC recently acknowledged that the ADA does not interfere with or prevent employers from following guidelines and suggestions made by the CDC about steps employers should take regarding the coronavirus.
OSHA’s guidance generally reinforces the strategies recommended by the CDC, including by encouraging good hygiene practices and instructing sick employees to remain or go home. In addition, OSHA recommends all employers develop an infectious disease preparedness and response plan, and stay informed on the latest guidance. OSHA advises employers to communicate frequently and keep their employees apprised as to the efforts being taken to protect them. Please contact one of MPBA’s employment attorneys, including Tammy Roe (email@example.com) and Sara Campbell (firstname.lastname@example.org), with any questions and for additional information.