EEOC Issues Latest COVID-19 Guidance for Employers
U.S. workplaces are experiencing unprecedented disruptions as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. As the coronavirus disease has arrived in many workplaces, employers are figuring out how to adapt.
In April, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued its latest guidance for employers on how to comply with federal employment laws during these overwhelming times. After all, no one canceled employee complaints alleging discrimination or harassment during the COVID-19 pandemic.
COVID-19 Harassment and Discrimination in the Workplace
The EEOC’s latest updates to the guidance issued on April 17 provided guidance for employers on how to deal with possible harassment and discrimination against co-workers after reopening the workplace.
First and foremost, the employer must remind their employees that discriminating against or harassing co-workers is against the federal law and that such behavior would not be tolerated. Also, the EEOC says it may be “particularly helpful” for employers to advise their supervisors and managers to watch for, prevent, and report any harassment and discrimination related to the coronavirus disease.
Coronavirus Screening in the Workplace
Previously, the EEOC provided a list of symptoms (fever, cough, and others) for which employers may screen workers before allowing them to enter the workplace. In its latest guidance, it expanded the list of COVID-19 symptoms to include vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, loss of taste or smell, as well as gastrointestinal problems.
Also, the EEOC instructed employers to rely on public health authorities and reliable medical sources for guidance on coronavirus symptoms when choosing questions to ask employees to determine whether they might have contracted the disease and could pose a threat to other workers.
Hiring High-Risk Job Applicants
The EEOC instructs employers that they may not withdraw a job offer or postpone the applicant’s start date simply because they are a “high-risk” individual. Earlier, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identified people over the age of 65 and pregnant women as being at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19.
Instead, employers are advised to either allow telework to high-risk job applicants or discuss the possibility of postponing the start date until they reach a consensus.
Employee Medical Information Confidentiality
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires that all medical information about each employee be stored separately from their personnel file to limit access to the confidential information. All medical information regarding the coronavirus disease can be stored in existing medical files.
Employers who take their employees’ temperatures on a daily basis before entering the workplace can keep a log of the results but must maintain the confidentiality of this information.
If an employer learns that one of their employees has COVID-19, they are allowed to disclose the name of this particular employee to a public health agency.
Coronavirus-Related Harassment Due to a Protected Characteristic
The guidance emphasizes that fear of COVID-19 infection “should not be misdirected” against other employees based on a protected characteristic, including their race, national origin, age, disability, etc. For this purpose, employers are advised to remind their employees of their anti-harassment and anti-discrimination policies.
If you need more answers to employment-related questions during the COVID-19 pandemic, visit the EEOC’s guidelines page and talk to a West Palm Beach employment law attorney at Pike & Lustig, LLP. Call at 561-291-8298 for a case review.