Exceptions to the ADA’s Restrictions During a Pandemic
By: Alex Weatherford
With COVID-19’s effect on the workplace, it is important to understand how employees and employers can help each other stay safe. With guidance from the United States’ Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), employers have the ability to ask employees questions normally prohibited by law.
The EEOC works to provide people with a workplace that is free of discrimination. One of the ways the EEOC does this is by enforcing the various restrictions put in place by the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). The ADA’s primary function is to make sure that people with disabilities have the same rights and opportunities as everyone else. The ADA protects these individuals by limiting the amount of medical information an employer may obtain from an employee.
The ADA’s restrictions are different during a pandemic. During a pandemic, employers may obtain medical information that is job-related and meets the business necessity requirement of the ADA. The World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic, so employers are now able to ask employees questions and gather information related to their health and how it may be affected by COVID-19.
So how do these exceptions benefit employers and employees? The permitted exceptions to the ADA are in place to protect the health and safety of all employees in the workplace. Although the exceptions are not foolproof, they can help reduce the spread of, in this case, COVID-19. These exceptions do not apply to employees who are not working alongside other people. For employees working from home, employers are still prohibited from obtaining medical information as the ADA’s restrictions are still applicable.
As employees return to the workplace, employers may ask employees if they have COVID-19, are experiencing symptoms, and/or if employees have been tested for the virus. At this time, COVID-19 symptoms include fever, chills, cough, shortness of breath, or sore throat. These symptoms may change as more is discovered about the virus. For more information regarding possible symptoms, please visit the CDC’s website here.
An employer may also take an employees’ body temperature and even administer COVID-19 tests. Employers must take all precautions to ensure that any tests they administer are accurate and reliable. If an employee refuses to answer questions, refuses a temperature measurement or refuses to take a COVID-19 test, an employer may legally exclude the employee from the workplace. Any employer who chooses to collect employees’ medical information must ensure its safekeeping. An employee’s medical information is still protected and must be kept confidential.
Navigating the interconnections among local, state, and federal laws can be tricky. Our attorneys at Rapp & Krock, PC can help you clarify the various restrictions and answer any questions as we all adapt to our new normal.
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