Published Date: 11/03/2014
By Pat Rountree
The Governors of New York and New Jersey recently announced that health care workers returning from treating Ebola patients and others who had direct contact with Ebola patients would be quarantined for 21 days, even if asymptomatic. The quarantine of an asymptomatic nurse has resulted in a legal challenge that will bring employment law issues to the forefront.
Employer concerns surfaced shortly after the announcement of the Ebola outbreak as employees who had traveled to affected areas returned to the US to work. The issues centered around:
- What can we as employers ask employees returning from travel to affected areas? (often related to employees visiting home countries on vacation and returning)
- Can we refuse to let them work for the 21 day incubation period?
- Can we require them to have a medical exam and be cleared to return to work?
- How do we handle other employees’ concerns and fears about exposure to Ebola through returning employees?
Employers have been caught between fears of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act through inappropriate inquiries or requiring medical exams, and OSHA by allowing someone to work who then exhibits symptoms and exposes other employees.
We referred members to the latest CDC information, OSHA updates, and the local public health department to keep up with rapidly evolving guidance in a recent newsletter article (Employer Concerns About Ebola).
We will keep you posted as new developments arise, but encourage you in the meantime to follow the guidance of the agencies mentioned above. The EEOC has not issued guidance in response to Ebola and the ADA. The CDC does not recommend quarantine of asymptomatic travelers returning from affected areas (as of 10/27/14).
[Note: Notwithstanding the ADA concerns, some employers have chosen to take the risk of an ADA complaint by sending the employee home with pay for at least 21 days if the employee is returning from a country that is suffering from an Ebola outbreak to avoid the devastating consequences of a possible Ebola contamination (even if a very remote possibility and even if the employee is asymptomatic) and the potential panic from co-workers and customers based on fears of possible contamination.]