On October 22, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a press release indicating that, effective Monday, October 27, a new program will be in place through which federal and state health authorities will monitor— for a period of 21 days—all travelers returning from the West African countries affected by Ebola. This active post-arrival monitoring program “is an approach in which state and local health officials maintain daily contact with all travelers from the three affected countries for the entire 21 days following their last possible date of exposure to Ebola virus.” The CDC will provide travelers whose travel originates in Liberia, Sierra Leone, or Guinea with a kit upon arrival to the United States that contains a thermometer, education materials, a symptom log, and health authority contact information.

According to the CDC press release,

state and local authorities will require travelers to report the following information daily: their temperature and the presence or absence of other Ebola symptoms such as headache, joint and muscle aches, weakness, diarrhea, vomiting, stomach pain, lack of appetite, or abnormal bleeding; and their intent to travel in-state or out-of-state. In the event a traveler does not report in, state or local public health officials will take immediate steps to locate the individual to ensure that active monitoring continues on a daily basis.

Further, if a traveler begins to show symptoms, “public health officials will implement an isolation and evaluation plan following appropriate protocols to limit exposure, and direct the individual to a local hospital that has been trained to receive potential Ebola patients.” More information on this program can be found on the CDC website.

Practical Impact for Employers

This new development will be a factor for employers when utilizing the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) direct threat analysis to determine whether to keep employees out of the workplace or require a medical examination when they return from travel to West Africa. In particular, it will likely be more difficult for an employer to justify excluding an asymptomatic employee from the workplace based solely on travel to the affected West African countries. This is because health authorities will now be actively monitoring these individuals on a daily basis. Unless the individual is placed into quarantine by health authorities or instructed to stay home, or other risk factors are present, the employee presumptively remains safe to return to work during the 21-day period under existing CDC guidelines. Still, employers should continue to evaluate each employee’s situation individually to determine the appropriate response based on the objective facts and the latest CDC guidance.

At the same time, however, this new active monitoring program provides an opportunity to reassure employees that travelers are being closely monitored upon their return to the country—thereby decreasing the likelihood of an Ebola exposure in the workplace.