Infectious Diseases and the Workplace

 

Getting sick can sometimes cause far more problems with your employer than you might imagine. Can you be fired for getting sick, or forced to stay home when a family member is sick? What do you do if you contract a serious contagious illness? What can employers do when there is an identified health risk or pandemic in the news, like swine flu, Ebola, or measles? It is important for workers and employers alike to know what employment actions are lawful in the face of serious illnesses, and how individuals and companies can protect themselves when infectious diseases are going around. 

1. I am a federal employee; do I have to get a COVID-19 vaccination?

Yes. A federal appeals court reinstated President Biden’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for the federal workforce. See the court’s decision for more information.  

Healthcare workers at Medicare- and Medicaid-certified providers and suppliers also have a vaccine requirement.  On January 13, 2022, the U.S. Supreme Court blocked the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s Emergency Temporary Standard requiring businesses with at least 100 employees to ensure workers are vaccinated against the coronavirus or wear masks and undergo weekly COVID-19 testing. However, it allowed the federal government to require COVID-19 vaccination for healthcare workers at Medicare- and Medicaid-certified providers and suppliers. See the U.S. Supreme Court decision for more information. 

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2. I am a federal contractor, what are my responsibilities related to COVID-19 vaccination?

President Biden issued an Executive Order 14042 requiring that  federal contractors be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, subject to such exceptions as required by law. Exceptions required by law include reasonable accommodations to employees who communicate to the agency that they are not vaccinated against COVID-19 because of a disability or because of a sincerely held religious belief, practice, or observance. Federal agencies still must comply with applicable federal laws—including privacy and collective bargaining obligations—when requesting vaccination information. See the Safer Federal Task Force FAQ for more information. 

A Georgia federal district court issued an injunction halting enforcement of Executive Order 14042, which requires that federal contractors and subcontractors with specific types of covered contracts ensure that their covered employees are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by January 18th, 2022. See the order for more information. 

Important Note: The federal contractor vaccine mandate is being litigated; it will not be enforced until the litigation is completed. 

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3. Do federal employees, onsite federal contractor employees, or visitors who are fully vaccinated for COVID-19 need to wear a mask or physically distance in federal buildings or on federal lands?

In areas of high or substantial transmission, fully vaccinated people need to wear a mask in public indoor settings, except in limited circumstances where an employee is entitled to a reasonable accommodation

In areas of low or moderate transmission, in most settings fully vaccinated people generally do not need to wear a mask or physically distance in federal buildings or on federal lands, except when required by Federal, State, local, Tribal, or territorial laws, rules, and regulations. For more information, see the Safer Federal Task Force FAQs.

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4. Is COVID-19 symptom screening required before agency onsite federal employees, onsite federal contractor employees, and visitors come to a federal workplace?

No, symptom screening is not required. For more information, see the Safer Federal Task Force FAQs.

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5. Are federal agencies required to establish a COVID-19 screening testing program?

Federal agencies must set up testing programs to screen unvaccinated federal workers and some contractors for COVID-19. The deadline for implementation is February 15, 2022. The testing program should apply to federal employees who have either a pending or approved request for an exception from President Biden’s requirement that the federal workforce be vaccinated against COVID-19 or an extension to the deadline to be vaccinated. Employees who are noncompliant with the vaccine mandate also must be subjected to weekly testing if they work at a federal facility or interact with the public. Unvaccinated employees who are working remotely or via maximum telework will not be required to undergo regular testing, although they should be tested in advance if they need to report to an agency facility.

See the Safer Federal Workfoce update for morei information. 

 

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6. Is there a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for private employers?

No, private employers are not required to have their employees vaccinated or submit to routine testing. However, healthcare workers at Medicare- and Medicaid-certified providers and suppliers must be vaccinated.

President Biden issued an Executive Order mandating that private sector employers with 100 or more employees require vaccines or routine testing. On January 13, 2022, the U.S. Supreme Court blocked the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s Emergency Temporary Standard requiring businesses with at least 100 employees to ensure workers are vaccinated against the coronavirus or wear masks and undergo weekly COVID-19 testing. However, it allowed the federal government to require COVID-19 vaccination for healthcare workers at Medicare- and Medicaid-certified providers and suppliers. See the U.S. Supreme Court decision for more information.

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7. Which states have COVID-19 vaccination mandates?

State laws for vaccine mandates vary by state. See the Kaiser Family Foundation website for information on vaccine mandates by state.

Additional State/City Vaccine Information

Alabama. Senate Bill (SB) 9 restricts Alabama employers from requiring COVID-19 vaccination as a condition of employment, instructing employers to “exempt vaccination as a condition of employment for any employee who has completed and submitted [an] exemption form.”

California. On December 16, 2021, Cal/OSHA’s Standards Board voted to readopt the Cal/OSHA COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standards (Cal/OSHA ETS) with several revisionsCalifornia website for more information. The California OSHA released guidance in the form of answers to frequently asked questions (FAQs) regarding the COVID-19 Prevention Emergency Temporary Standards (ETS) to further clarify employer obligations.

Florida. Florida House Bill HB-1B private states that employers may require employees to be vaccinated, though a may not impose a COVID-19 mandate without providing individual exemptions allowing an employee to “opt out” of such mandate based on one of five reasons: medical reasons, religious reasons, COVID-19 immunity, periodic testing, use of employer-provided PE. On December 2, 2021, the Florida Department of Legal Affairs issued a Notice of Emergency Rule that further defining key provisions of HB-1B. This Department also issued FAQs that provide guidance on how employees can file a complaint for violations of the law. 

Indiana. Most Indiana employers who require employees and independent contractors to receive the COVID-19 vaccine must allow employees to opt out from the requirement based on any of the following: (1) medical reasons; (2) religious reasons; or (3) employee immunity from COVID-19 based on a prior infection with COVID-19. The law does not apply to federal employers, federal contractors and healthcare facilities subject to a federal COVID-19 immunization requirement, and professional sports organizations and entertainment venues with employees who work in close proximity to live sports or entertainment. See the law for more information.

Kansas. Kansas House Bill (HB) No. 2001 broadens from employer COVID-19 vaccine mandates; it allows the imposition of civil penalties against noncomplying Kansas employers, and it provides unemployment benefits to individuals who were discharged for failing to comply with an employer’s vaccine mandate.

Maine. Portland has left the city’s existing COVID-19 emergency order in place, triggering implementation of a hazard pay requirement that requires covered employers to pay hourly employees at least $19.50 per hour starting January 1, 2022. See the Portland website for addtitional COVID-19 information. 

Massachusettes. Beginning January 15, 2022, in Boston, individuals will be required to show proof of vaccination against COVID-19 in order to enter certain indoor spaces in Boston. People working in those locations also will be required to have received their vaccines. his new policy is in addition to the City’s existing indoor mask mandate. See the order for additional details on covered locations, how to demonstrate proof of vaccination status, and enforcement.

Minnesota. Minnesota OSHA suspended its enforcement of COCVID-19 Vaccination and Testing ETS pending future developments. See the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry website for more information.  

New York. Tthe New York City Council amended its Earned Safe and Sick Time Act to require all private-sector employers to provide their employees with four hours of paid COVID-19 child vaccination leave for each of their children, per vaccine injection, retroactive to November 2, 2021. See the New York City website for more information. New York City will also require all private sector businesses in the city to mandate COVID-19 vaccinations for their workers. The mandate will be effective on  Dec. 27. Finally, New York City is also issuing a COVID vaccine mandate for employees of Catholic schools, yeshivas, and other private schools. These workers must get their first dose by December 20, 2021. 

 New York state is not enforcing its booster requirement for healthcare workers that went into effect on February 21, 2022. The state will reassess in three months whether additional steps need to be taken to increase booster rates among the healthcare work force. See the state’s press release for more information.

The New York City Earned Safe and Sick Time Act has been expanded to require private employers provide parents with four hours of paid COVID-19 child vaccination time for each vaccine injection for each child, whether to use for the vaccination time itself or side effects. The new law applies retroactively to November 2, 2021.

Philadelphia. On November 19, 2021, the City of Philadelphia announced that all City workers must “complete a full schedule of COVID-19 vaccination(s)” by January 14, 2022, or risk losing their jobs. This mandate follows the City’s announcements requiring all Philadelphia healthcare workers, college students, faculty, and staff to be vaccinated by October 15, 2021, and all non-union workers to be fully vaccinated by December 1, 2021. On December 13, 2021, the Philadelphia Department of Health announced a vaccine mandate for patrons and staff of all establishments that sell food or drink for on-site consumption within Philadelphia city limits.

Oregon. On November 4, 2021, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued a new emergency temporary standard (OSHA ETS) that requires employers with 100 or more employees to ensure that their employees are either fully vaccinated or subject to COVID-19 testing at least once per week. On November 12, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ordered OSHA to not implement or enforce the OSHA ETS until further court notice. Because Oregon has a state OSHA plan, Oregon employers are not subject to the OSHA ETS. However, when the OSHA ETS was issued, Oregon had 30 days (until December 4, 2021) to implement its own employer vaccine requirements. Due to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals Order, Oregon stated on its website that it doesn’t anticipate adopting a rule by December 4, 2021. 

South Carolina. Private employers can mandate vaccination, but they must allow for religious and medical exemptions. See the law for more information. If a private employer implements a vaccine mandate, it may not extend the mandate to independent contractors or other nonemployees who provide goods or services to the employer, nor may it coerce such individuals and third-party entities into implementing their own vaccine mandates in order to maintain the business relationship with the private employer. See the law for more information. 

South Carolina prohibits public employers in the State of South Carolina from requiring that individuals be vaccinated as a condition of employment. Similarly, schools within the state cannot require attendees to be vaccinated. Private employers in the state can mandate vaccination, but they must broadly allow for religious and medical exemptions. See the law for more information.

Utah. Employers may require vaccination, but they must relieve an employee of a COVID-19
vaccination requirement under certain conditions. Senate Bill 2004 modifies Utah’s employer vaccine mandate. The law requires employers to not require an emplolyee to get a COVID-19 vaccination under these conditions: 1. if receiving the vaccine would be injurious to the health and wellbeing of the employee or prospective employee; 2. if receiving the vaccine would conflict with a sincerely held religious belief, practice, or observance of the employee or prospective employee; or 3. if receiving the vaccine would conflict with a “sincerely held personal belief” of the employee or prospective employee. See the Utah Attorney General’s website for more information.

Utah amended its vaccination and testing requirements to include an exemption for previous COVID-19 infections. Employers that require an employee or prospective employee to receive or show proof that they received a COVID-19 vaccine shall exempt from the requirement an employee or prospective employee who submits to the employer “a letter from the employee or prospective employee’s primary care provider stating that the employee or prospective employee was previously infected by COVID-19.” See the law for more information.

Washington. Proclamation 21-14.3 requires employees, on-site volunteers, and on-site contractors of state agencies, operators of an educational setting, and operators of a healthcare setting to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and to provide proof of COVID-19 vaccination. The proclamation also outlines exemptions and exceptions, like religious and disability accommodations.

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8. Which states have COVID-19 mask mandates?

State laws for mask mandates vary by state. See the AARP Guide to State Mask Mandates for information on mask requirements by state.

 

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9. What are the state school related COVID-19 policies?

State laws for school-related COVID-19 policies vary by state. See the Kaiser Family Foundation website for information on school-related COVID-19 policies by state.

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10. Which states have social distancing actions?

State laws for social distancing actions vary by state. See the Kaiser Family Foundation website for information on social distancing actions by state.

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11. What are vaccine passports?

A vaccine passport is a paper or digital form certifying that a person has been vaccinated against a particular disease.

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12. Which states require vaccine passports?

No state requires a vaccine passport. New York has a program called Excelsior Pass that is a secure, digital proof of your COVID-19 vaccination or negative test results. It is only accepted by participating businesses and venues. Through the Safe Travels Hawaii Program, fully vaccinated individuals may enter Hawaii without pre-travel testing/quarantining by uploading their vaccination record onto Safe Travels and printing it prior to departure so that it is in hand when arriving in Hawaii.

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13. Which states have banned vaccine passports?
The 

Alabama. Alabama Bill SB267 bans public entities and private businesses from requiring proof of vaccination to provide goods or services to individuals, but limits the requirements to vaccines approved as of Jan. 1, 2021. The legislation also bans schools from asking students and teachers for vaccine certification in order to return to in-person classes.

Arizona. Executive Order 2021-19 prohibits state and local government agencies from requiring residents to provide their COVID-19 vaccination status to receive service or enter an area. There are some exceptions, including healthcare institutions. 

Arkansas. Arkansas Bill SB615 prevents state and local governments from requiring proof of vaccination as a condition of employment or to access goods and services. The ban on requirements related to employment has some exceptions, including state-owned medical facilities.

Florida. Executive Order 21-81 prohibits state government entities from issuing vaccine passports, vaccine passes or other standardized documentation for the purpose of certifying an individual’s COVID-19 vaccination status to a third party. The order also prohibits businesses from requiring similar documentation to enter or get services from a business.

Georgia. The Executive Order 03.20.20.01prohibits state agencies, state service providers, and state properties from requiring COVID-19 vaccine passports.

Idaho. Executive Order 2021-04prohibits government agencies from producing COVID-19 vaccine passports or requiring such proof as a condition of accessing state services. 

Indiana. House Bill 1405 prohibits “the state or a local unit from issuing or requiring a COVID-19 ‘immunization passport.

Iowa. House File 889 prohibits businesses and government entities from requiring people to show proof of vaccination against COVID-19 in order to enter their premises, and notes that state grants and contracts “shall not be awarded to or renewed with entities that violate this provision. The law also prohibits government agencies from issuing identification cards that include COVID-19 vaccination status.

Montana. Executive Order 7-2021prohibits the State of Montana from requiring a vaccine to access state services or facilities; producing, issuing, or funding vaccine passports; and sharing an individual’s vaccination status with any person, company, or governmental entity for purposes of a vaccine passport program. It also prohibits Montana businesses from requiring patrons and customers to provide documentation of their vaccination status to gain access to, entry upon, or service.

North Dakota. House Bill 1465 puts a limited ban on vaccine passports. The bill bans state and local governments from requiring vaccination documents and mandating that businesses do so for employment or services. Higher education institutions are exempt. The bill bans state and local governments from requiring vaccination documents and mandating that businesses do so for employment or services. Higher education institutions are exempt.

South Caroolina. Executive Order    2021-23 bans local governments, state agencies and state employees from requiring a “vaccine passport” or proof of vaccination for residents to receive government services or gain access to any building, facility or location.

South Dakota. Executive Order 2021-08 bans the development or use of vaccine mandates in South Dakota. 

Texas. Executive Order GA-35 bans state agencies or political subdivisions in the state from creating a vaccine passport requirement. The order also “prohibits organizations receiving public funds from requiring consumers to provide documentation of vaccine status in order to receive any service or enter any place.” Senate Bill-968 also extends the ban to private businesses. 

Wyoming. A Directive issued by the Governor prevents state agencies, boards and commissions from requiring vaccine passports to access state spaces and state services.

 

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14. I’ve heard a lot about COVID-19 in the news. What is it?

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that are common in people and many different types of animals, including camels, cattle, cats, and bats. Like other coronaviruses, it has come from animals. Many of those originally infected either worked or frequently shopped in the Huanan seafood wholesale market in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China.

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15. What can I do to lower my risk of getting sick with COVID-19?

Have supplies on hand

  • Contact your healthcare provider to ask about obtaining extra necessary medications to have on hand in case there is an outbreak of COVID-19 in your community and you need to stay home for a prolonged period of time.
  • If you cannot get extra medications, consider using mail-order for medications.
  • Be sure you have over-the-counter medicines and medical supplies (tissues, etc.) to treat fever and other symptoms. Most people will be able to recover from COVID-19 at home.
  • Have enough household items and groceries on hand so that you will be prepared to stay at home for a period of time.
  • Take everyday precautions
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick

Take everyday preventive actions

  • Clean your hands often
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing, or having been in a public place.
  • If soap and water are not available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
  • To the extent possible, avoid touching high-touch surfaces in public places – elevator buttons, door handles, handrails, handshaking with people, etc. Use a tissue or your sleeve to cover your hand or finger if you must touch something.
  • Wash your hands after touching surfaces in public places.
  • Avoid touching your face, nose, eyes, etc.
  • Clean and disinfect your home to remove germs: practice routine cleaning of frequently touched surfaces (for example: tables, doorknobs, light switches, handles, desks, toilets, faucets, sinks & cell phones)
  • Avoid crowds, especially in poorly ventilated spaces. Your risk of exposure to respiratory viruses like COVID-19 may increase in crowded, closed-in settings with little air circulation if there are people in the crowd who are sick. 

The CDC recently issued an interim guidance for businesses and employers to respond to COVID-19, which overlap significantly with OSHA‘s guidance on coronavirus.

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16. What should I do if I get sick with COVID-19?

The CDC encourages employees with symptoms of acute respiratory illness such as fevers or cough to stay home until they are without symptoms for at least 24 hours.

Call your healthcare provider and let them know about your symptoms. Tell them that you have or may have COVID-19. This will help them take care of you and keep other people from getting infected or exposed.

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17. What are the symptoms or warning signs of COVID-19?

Pay attention for potential COVID-19 symptoms including, fever, cough, and shortness of breath. If you feel like you are developing symptoms, call your doctor. If you develop emergency warning signs for COVID-19 get medical attention immediately. In adults, emergency warning signs:

  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
  • New confusion or inability to arouse
  • Bluish lips or face

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18. Am I at risk of contracting COVID-19?

Not necessarily. According to the CDC, some people are at higher risk of getting very sick from this illness. This includes:

  • Older adults
  • People who have serious chronic medical conditions like:
  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Lung disease

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19. I caught the flu. Can my employer fire me because I am sick?

Typically your boss may fire you for missing work due to the flu, but it depends on the seriousness of the flu symptoms you have. If the flu makes you very sick and causes non-typical health complications, it may be illegal for your employer to fire you. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) protects employees by stating that certain employers may not fire employees for missing 12 weeks or less of work due to serious illness. While it is very rare for courts to prevent employers from firing employees due to the flu, courts have granted FMLA protection to employees that caught the flu and had severe reactions. To determine if the flu counts as an FMLA covered condition, certain factors must be met. The most important factor is that your flu must be considered a “serious health condition.” The flu may count as a serious health condition if the following occur:

  • It prevents you from being able to complete essential functions of your job for four or more consecutive calendar days;
  • It causes you to visit a healthcare provider at least twice, and the visits must be in person and not over the phone follow-ups;
  • It requires you to receive continued treatment;
  • Even if your doctor advises you to stay home for a week, if the other FMLA conditions are not met, the flu is not considered a serious health condition.

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20. I caught the flu. Can my employer fire me because I am sick?

Typically your boss may fire you for missing work due to the flu, but it depends on the seriousness of the flu symptoms you have. If the flu makes you very sick and causes non-typical health complications, it may be illegal for your employer to fire you. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) protects employees by stating that certain employers may not fire employees for missing 12 weeks or less of work due to serious illness. While it is very rare for courts to prevent employers from firing employees due to the flu, courts have granted FMLA protection to employees that caught the flu and had severe reactions. To determine if the flu counts as an FMLA covered condition, certain factors must be met. The most important factor is that your flu must be considered a “serious health condition.” The flu may count as a serious health condition if the following occur:

  • It prevents you from being able to complete essential functions of your job for four or more consecutive calendar days;
  • It causes you to visit a healthcare provider at least twice, and the visits must be in person and not over the phone follow-ups;
  • It requires you to receive continued treatment;
  • Even if your doctor advises you to stay home for a week, if the other FMLA conditions are not met, the flu is not considered a serious health condition.

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21. I caught the flu. Can my employer fire me because I am sick?

Typically your boss may fire you for missing work due to the flu, but it depends on the seriousness of the flu symptoms you have. If the flu makes you very sick and causes non-typical health complications, it may be illegal for your employer to fire you. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) protects employees by stating that certain employers may not fire employees for missing 12 weeks or less of work due to serious illness. While it is very rare for courts to prevent employers from firing employees due to the flu, courts have granted FMLA protection to employees that caught the flu and had severe reactions. To determine if the flu counts as an FMLA covered condition, certain factors must be met. The most important factor is that your flu must be considered a “serious health condition.” The flu may count as a serious health condition if the following occur:

  • It prevents you from being able to complete essential functions of your job for four or more consecutive calendar days;
  • It causes you to visit a healthcare provider at least twice, and the visits must be in person and not over the phone follow-ups;
  • It requires you to receive continued treatment;
  • Even if your doctor advises you to stay home for a week, if the other FMLA conditions are not met, the flu is not considered a serious health condition.

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22. Do I have to call my employer if I miss work because I have the flu?

Yes. While FMLA does protect sick employees, you still must call your employer and follow any call-in procedure your employer has established. However, if your illness is sudden and prevents you from calling your employer immediately, then you may not need call in immediately, so long as you DO call in as soon as reasonably possible. If you fail to do so, you will not be given FMLA’s protection.

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23. Can my employer fire me for not getting a flu shot?

Yes. Generally, your boss may make it a job requirement that you be vaccinated and remove the risk of exposer to infectious disease. If your employer creates such a policies, your employer may fire you for failing to vaccinate yourself or your children. Your employer may assume that having an unvaccinated child could lead to an unreasonable risk that you could catch the flu or another illness, and as a result, your employer is legally allowed to fire you.

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24. How can I avoid getting sick at work?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”), the best option to avoid the flu is to get the flu shot, and the best way to avoid other infectious diseases is to get the corresponding vaccination. For other contagious illnesses do the following:

  • Avoid close contact with others when you, or they, are sick;
  • Stay at home when you are sick;
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze;
  • Washing your hands often, with soap and water for at least 20 seconds;
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands (this is an important step to avoid catching the flu);
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects at work.

For more information about stopping the spread of germs at work, refer to the CDC website.

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25. I have been hearing a lot in the news about Zika, Ebola, and Measles. What arev they?

Zika

Zika is a virus spread mostly by the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito. It can be passed from a pregnant woman to her fetus, causing certain brith defects. At present, there is no vaccine or medicine for Zika. Symptoms of Zika may include fever, rash, headache joint pain, conjunctivitis, and muscle pain, lasting from several days to a week. If you suspect that you may have been affected, a blood or urine test can confirm Zika infection. The CDC advises that you see a doctor or healthcare provider if you develop symptoms.

To prevent Zika infection, the CDC recommends protecting yourself from mosquito bites. You may do so by using an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)- registered insect repellant containing one of the active ingredients: DEET, picardin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus, para-menthane-diol, or 2-undecanone.

Ebola

Ebola is a rare and deadly disease that was first discovered in 1976 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Some nations have seen a dramatic increase in the numbers of individuals with Ebola. Recently, there have even been a few rare scares of Ebola in the USA. To avoid catching Ebola the CDC recommends:

  • Washing your hands with soap or hand sanitizer;
  • Avoid contact with blood and body fluids;
  • Do not handle items that came into contact with infected blood or body fluids;
  • Avoid bats and nonhuman primates, their blood, their fluids, and their raw meat;
  • Avoid funeral rituals that handle bodies of those that died from Ebola;
  • For the latest information about Ebola, see the CDC Ebola page.

Measles

Measles is a disease that, in the early half of the twentieth century, lead to the hospitalization of 48,000 people and the death of 400 to 500 people per year. In the year 2000, the CDC declared that measles had been eliminated in the USA because it had not been transmitted for 12 consecutive months. This success was attributed to the success of vaccination policies for school-aged children. However, recently, measles has again begun to break out in parts of the USA.

To avoid catching measles the CDC recommends:

  • Get an MMR vaccination
  • The CDC states that it there is no link between the MMR vaccination and autism
  • Most children have no side effects from the vaccination

Measles is very contagious. You can catch it by being in a room where someone with measles breathed within the last two hours. Nearly everyone that doesn’t have a vaccination will catch measles if they are exposed to the measles virus.

For more information about Measles see the CDC measles page.

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26. I have an infectious disease and have to miss work. Am I protected?
Under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), covered employees may take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for serious medical conditions. Whether any infectious disease is considered a serious medical condition will depend on the disease and the degree to which it affects you. When there is a fear of a nationwide pandemic, and the spread of a disease makes the news, employers are likely to consider the illness serious medical condition.

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27. How much information can my employer request if I call off of work due to an illness?

CDC recommends that employers not require a note from employees who are sick with acute respiratory illness to validate their illness because health care providers may be extremely busy responding to other health needs.

The ADA prohibits employee disability-related inquiries or medical examinations; however, employers may ask such employees if they are experiencing COVID-19, such as fever or a cough and shortness of breath. Employers must maintain all information about employee illness as a confidential medical record in compliance with the ADA.

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28. Can my employer force me to stay home from work if I, or one of my family members, contracts an infectious disease?
Yes, under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), an employer may force an employee to stay home if the employer believes that the employee will pose a direct threat to the workplace due to having or being exposed to, a serious infectious disease. This includes employees that are still willing and able to work. Many diseases are very infectious. For example, the Measles virus can be caught if you enter a room where an infected individual was located thirty minutes ago. Sometimes the best way an employer can prevent the threat of exposure to all employees is to require one employee to stay home from work.

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29. If my employer requires me to stay home because I have an infectious disease, does that count toward the 12 weeks of leave under the FMLA?

No, if an overly cautious employer forces an employee who does not have an infectious disease to stay home from work, this time cannot be charged against the employee’s 12-week entitlement under the FMLA. As a general rule, employers are not allowed to charge employees with FMLA leave when that leave is required by the employer.

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30. Can my employer require employees to adopt infection control practices to guard against infectious diseases?

No, if an overly cautious employer forces an employee who does not have an infectious disease to stay home from work, this time cannot be charged against the employee’s 12-week entitlement under the FMLA. As a general rule, employers are not allowed to charge employees with FMLA leave when that leave is required by the employer.

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31. Does my employer have a duty to protect me against an infectious disease at work?
es. According to OSHA, the law that requires employers to provide a safe workplace, your employer does have a duty to protect you from recognized hazards. However, there is no specific duty that details what an employer must do to protect you from an infectious disease.

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32. Should I inform my supervisor if my co-worker is coughing at work?

Yes. If an employee arrives to work showing signs of an acute respiratory illness (such as cough or shortness of breath) or becomes sick during the day, the CDC recommends that the employee be separated and sent home immediately. Advising such workers to go home is not a disability-related action if the illness is similar to seasonal influenza or COVID-19. Additionally, the action would be permitted under the ADA if the illness were serious enough to pose a direct threat.

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33. Is my employer allowed to track whether I, or a family member, have an infectious disease?
It depends. Typically employers cannot force you to tell them if you have a disability or a sickness that others are not at risk of catching. However, under the ADA, during a pandemic, an employer may require employees to disclose whether they or their family members have been exposed to an infectious disease.

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34. Can my employer require a doctor’s note when I return to work after an illness?
es. These questions are allowed under the ADA either because they would not be disability-related or, if the employee was believed to have COVID-19, and it were truly severe, your employer would be justified under the ADA standards for disability-related inquiries of employees.

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35. Can a potential employee require me to undergo a medical exam to check for an infectious disease before I start work?
Yes, the ADA does permit potential employers to require medical examinations of entering employees after they have already extended an offer of employment. However, employers cannot administer these medical exams in a discriminatory fashion and must require these medical exams from all new employees in the same job category.

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36. Can my employer require me to work from home if I, or a family member, has an infectious disease?
Under the ADA, if there is an outbreak of a serious health concern, then employers are allowed to require employees to work from home. However, employers are not allowed to single out employees to work from home.

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37. I am quarantined. What information can my employer share with my co-workers?
If an employee is confirmed to have COVID-19, employers should inform fellow employees of their possible exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace. Employers should not, however, disclose to co-workers the identity of the quarantined employee because confidentiality requirements under federal law, such as ADA, or state law may apply.

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38. Is my employer required to grant me leave if I am quarantined due to an infectious disease?
Many states do not have laws preventing employers from firing someone who is quarantined by the state, so long as there is no contract or union agreement. However, the some states do have laws that prevent employers from firing any employee or any full-time employee. However, some states do have laws that prevent employers from firing any employee or any full-time employee. For more information on state laws regarding quarantine, visit our Workers’ Rights During Public Health Emergencies page.

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39. Do employer instituted quarantines, mass layoffs, or shut downs entitle me to unemployment benefits?
Yes, workers are generally entitled to unemployment insurance if they are furloughed when a business temporarily shuts down and all other unemployment requirements are met. Depending on the size and length of the temporary shutdown, the jurisdiction may require notification to the applicable unemployment department as a mass separation. For more information visit our Workers’ Rights During Public Health Emergencies page.

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40. What is in President Biden’s action plan to protect Americans against the Delta and Omicron Variants?
President Biden’s action for the Delta and Omicron Variants includes:

  • Boosters for All Adults
  • Vaccinations to Protect Our Kids and Keep Our Schools Open
  • Expanding Free At-Home Testing for Americans
  • Stronger Public Health Protocols for Safe International Travel
  • Protections in Workplaces to Keep Our Economy Open
  • Rapid Response Teams to Help Battle Rising Cases
  • Supplying Treatment Pills to Help Prevent Hospitalizations and Death
  • Continued Commitment to Global Vaccination Efforts
  • Steps to Ensure We Are Prepared for All Scenarios 

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41. What is the EEOC guidance of religious accommodations for COVID-19?
Employees must tell their employer if they are requesting an exception to a COVID-19 vaccination requirement because of a conflict between that requirement and their sincerely held religious beliefs, practices, or observances.  Under Title VII, this is called a request for a “religious accommodation” or a “reasonable accommodation.” 

An employer should proceed on the assumption that a request for religious accommodation is based on sincerely held religious beliefs, practices, or observances.  However, if an employer has an objective basis for questioning either the religious nature or the sincerity of a particular belief, the employer would be justified in making a limited factual inquiry and seeking additional supporting information.  An employee who fails to cooperate with an employer’s reasonable requests for verification of the sincerity or religious nature of a professed belief, practice, or observance risks losing any subsequent claim that the employer improperly denied an accommodation. See the EEOC website for more information.

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42. Is there a law that protects COVID-19 caregivers from discrimination?
Yes. Caregiver discrimination violates federal employment discrimination laws when it is based on an applicant’s or employee’s sex (including pregnancy, sexual orientation, or gender identity), race, color, religion, national origin, age (40 or older), disability, or genetic information (such as family medical history). Caregiver discrimination also is unlawful if it is based on an applicant’s or employee’s association with an individual with a disability, within the meaning of the Americans with Disabilities Act, or on the race, ethnicity, or other protected characteristic of the individual for whom care is provided. Finally, caregiver discrimination violates these laws if it is based on intersections among these characteristics (for example, discrimination against Black female caregivers based on racial and gender stereotypes, or discrimination against Christian female caregivers based on religious and gender stereotypes). See the EEOC website for more information.

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