With 413 Zika virus cases reported in 34 of Florida’s 67 counties as of August 15, it’s clear that it is spreading. Employers should take steps now to prepare for the impact.
The virus can implicate several workplace laws, including the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Family Medical Leave Act and the Occupational Safety and Health Act. If an employee contracts the virus and becomes disabled as that term is defined in the ADA, then the employer must enter into an interactive dialog with the employee and determine whether the employee can perform the essential job functions with or without a reasonable accommodation. If a Zika-stricken employee suffers a serious health condition or needs time-off to care for a family member suffering from such a condition, that employee may be entitled to up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave as with any other qualifying event under the FMLA.
Other workplace laws may come into play as well. The Occupational Safety and Health Act requires that employers provide a place of employment “free from recognized hazards that are causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm to employees.” What does this mean with regard to the Zika virus? It is difficult to say at this point, but the physical symptoms experienced by some who contract the virus, as well as the risk to pregnant women and unborn children, are indeed serious. Employers in affected areas must be proactive and vigilant in their approach to combating the virus. Steps should be taken to inform all employees of the potential risks, and special care should be implemented with respect to pregnant women and couples who plan to become pregnant. Requests for leave and alternative work arrangements (i.e. allowing a pregnant employee to work from home to avoid coming into an affected area) should be considered as options if feasible for your workforce.
Above all, education and awareness are the key to minimizing the risk. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health are monitoring the Zika virus outbreak and have issued a seven–page Fact Sheet designed to educate the public about the virus and provide information on how to prevent its spread.
Monitor the CDC and Florida Department of Health websites closely for any new updates or guidance and make sure your employees understand that they are free to ask questions as they arise. Our attorneys here at the HR Defense Blog are monitoring the situation closely, and we will send out updates via this blog as they occur.