The COVID-19 pandemic creates a new set of labor and employment questions for both employers and employees alike. These are distressing, disorienting times, and regulations pertaining to COVID-19 are subject to change. Worldwide, there are great differences in laws being applied to the workplace, from testing and temperature taking to requiring face masks and disclosing COVID-19 exposure in “return to work” questionnaires.
As this is a rapidly evolving situation, the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) states that, during a pandemic, employers should rely on the latest CDC and state or local public guidance and mandates. This will differ between states. Regardless, employers should work to obtain the latest health advice appropriate to their location. Likewise, employees will want to stay on top of the latest regulations. Here are some pertinent questions you might be asking yourself and, at the time of this article’s publication, what we know.
Do employees need to disclose a positive COVID-19 result?
In the U.S., and according to the CDC, employees do not need to disclose a positive COVID-19 result. They write, “Employers should not require sick employees to provide a COVID-19 test result or a healthcare provider’s note to validate their illness, qualify for sick leave, or to return to work.”
However, ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act)-covered employers may ask employees if they are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms such fever, chills, cough, shortness of breath, or sore throat. If they are, employers can require employees to stay home. Employers must maintain all information about employee illness as confidential in compliance with the ADA.
If an employee chooses to disclose a positive COVID-19 result, employers should notify fellow employees of their possible exposure, but must also maintain confidentiality.
Can employers legally ask their employees to disclose a COVID-19 test result?
While employers can strongly advise employees to disclose a positive COVID-19 test result for the safety and wellness of others, under current law, they cannot be forced to disclose test results.
However, according to the EEOC, an employer can require COVID-19 testing before employees can enter the workplace. Testing must be on a non-discriminatory basis, meaning all employees must be subject to it. As an accurate, positive test only reveals if the virus is currently present and a negative result does not mean an employee could not contract the virus in the future, employers can require several rounds of testing.
Additionally, positive COVID-19 tests in the U.S. are considered reportable by clinical laboratories or healthcare providers to the Department of Public Health. The department (or the local police department) can notify employers that one of their employees tested positive (without divulging the name). Again, given that the virus creates an imminent threat to others, employers must alert fellow employees of the possible risk.
What kind of on-site screening can employers mandate?
It’s important to note that employers are legally allowed to require COVID-19 testing prior to employees returning to work.
Other measures may be taken by employers to regularly track the health of employees. In New York, for example, employers are required by law to run a “health screening assessment” prior to employees starting work each day, which includes a temperature check. Additionally, face coverings and/or masks are required in public places (which applies to places of work). Your employer is required to supply you with a face covering if you do not have one. Remember, current laws may vary by state; it’s important to regularly keep yourself apprised of public health information put forth by your state and local government officials.
This blog is intended to be informational in nature. The information and other content provided in this blog, or in any linked materials, are not intended and should not be construed as medical advice, nor is the information a substitute for professional medical expertise or treatment.
If you have any questions or concerns, please talk to your doctor. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this blog or in any linked materials. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or emergency services immediately.