Published Date: 10/13/2014
By Pat Rountree
Employers are raising concerns about what actions they should take and/or are permitted by law to take when employees return after travel to or through countries affected by Ebola. As of October 2, the CDC reports Ebola outbreaks in the following countries: Guinea, Nigeria, Liberia, Sierra Leone. The US and Senegal have reported travel-related cases.
Currently, prevention and control measures have been developed by the CDC for employees in healthcare, airlines, laboratories and those providing humanitarian aid – http://j.mp/eb-ola.
The response by government and public health agencies to Ebola is still evolving. As of October 6, they are not in favor of banning travel to affected areas. There is discussion of checking the temperature of travelers entering the US at major airports, and possibly quarantining those who have symptoms. We urge you to check the following websites for the latest information:
- CDC – http://j.mp/eb-14
- OSHA Control and Prevention Interim general guidance for workers – http://j.mp/4-eb
Check with your local public health department as well.
Absent specific direction from the above agencies, the following applies:
The Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits requiring a medical exam unless the employee is having difficulty performing their job or they are a direct threat to the safety of themselves or others. Direct threat is defined as a significant risk of substantial harm to the health or safety of the individual or others that cannot be eliminated or reduced below the direct threat level through reasonable accommodation. A medical examination of an employee may not disqualify an individual with a disability who is currently able to perform essential job functions because of speculation that the disability may cause a risk of future injury. (Source – http://j.mp/QA-AD)
An employee returning from international travel with no symptoms at this point would not be considered a direct threat.
You may provide employees who will be traveling to affected areas or internally with the Ebola guidance from CDC. For employees returning from international travel, discuss the CDC guidance and advise the employee to stay home from work and consult with their doctor if they have fever or any symptoms.
Consider limiting/eliminating work-related travel to affected areas for employees who normally travel to those areas. Contraction of Ebola through work-related exposure would likely be covered by workers’ compensation.
For other employees who may fear exposure from working with an employee who has returned from international travel, advise that you are following guidance from the CDC and public health agencies. You may provide them with information from the CDC that exposure is through contact with bodily fluids. According to CDC – this is generally not casual contact, and thus the expectation for widespread transmission in the US is very low.
Follow procedures outlined in applicable OSHA standards regarding general duty clause for safety, personal protective equipment, bloodborne pathogens exposure, etc. – http://j.mp/5-eb.