There are numerous federal and state laws guaranteeing the rights of employees with respect to discrimination, privacy of medical records, and safety in the workplace. Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, federal agencies, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”), the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”), and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”), have issued guidelines affecting these rights. Employees may have many questions regarding the implications of COVID-19 on their rights at work.
How has COVID-19 Impacted Rules on Unsafe Working Conditions?
OSHA regulations protect employees against discrimination if they refuse, in good faith, to expose themselves to dangerous conditions in the workplace.
However, employees who refuse to return to work for fear of contracting COVID-19 are not eligible for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (“PUA”) under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (“CARES”). For example, this may include employees of retail stores or restaurants who must interact with the public. In addition to contracting the virus, some employees at retail stores have reported being assaulted by irate customers who refuse to comply with face mask requirements.
Are Employers Still Required to Make Reasonable Accommodations for Disabilities?
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities as long as it does not impose an undue hardship. However, given that many employers are experiencing decreased income, they may have grounds for demonstrating that accommodations provided in the past are now significantly expensive in relation to their current financial status, creating an undue hardship.
Can Employers Require Workers to Submit to Temperature Checks?
Under normal conditions, the ADA prohibits all disability-related inquiries and medical examinations, even if they are job-related. However, current EEOC guidelines allow employers to require workers to submit to testing to determine whether they currently have COVID-19. Furthermore, the EEOC stated that because the CDC and state/local health authorities acknowledged community spread of COVID-19 and issued attendant precautions, employers may measure employees’ body temperatures. If a worker is found to have COVID-19, the employer can make the worker stay home. The employer can also disclose the worker’s illness to public health agencies.
However, employers must maintain the confidentiality of temperature check records. Employers in general cannot ask employees about their health; however, the EEOC now states that employers may ask workers if they are experiencing fever, chills, cough, shortness of breath, or sore throat, which are symptoms of COVID-19.
How are Hiring Decisions Affected by COVID-19 Exposure?
Under current CDC guidelines, employers have the right to deny employment to job applicants with active cases of COVID-19 because those persons cannot enter the workplace safely. However, the CDC also said that the use of COVID-19 antibody tests should not be used to make general employment decisions involving hiring or returning workers to a specific job. Persons with antibodies are presumed to have had COVID-19 in the past and may have a degree of immunity. However, if an employer requires a worker to take a COVID-19 test in order to return to work, that would be a violation of the ADA.
Philadelphia Employment Lawyers at Sidkoff, Pincus & Green P.C. Keep Pace with Evolving Federal, State and Local Guidelines to Deliver Outstanding Results
The legal protections afforded by employment laws are continually shaped by court rulings and guidance issued by federal, state, and local agencies. Employee rights in the workplace today are subject to change tomorrow. If you have questions about your rights in the workplace, the Philadelphia employment lawyers at Sidkoff, Pincus & Green P.C. can help. Fill out our online form or call us at 215-574-0600 to arrange a confidential consultation. Located in Philadelphia, we serve clients throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey.