The Ebola virus, first diagnosed almost 40 years ago, for which there is no vaccine and up to a 90% fatality rate, is very much in the news. In the most recent outbreak, since March 2014, the Centers for Disease Control reports about 887 suspected deaths and more than 1600 confirmed cases. The CDC has issued a Level 3 travel advisory for Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia, meaning travelers should avoid all non-essential travel to these areas. This is the highest level advisory issued by the CDC.
Two infected patients lie in an Atlanta hospital having been transported there from Liberia. A few others in the United States have walked into hospitals, asking to be tested.
Whenever there is an outbreak of a deadly disease, the “worst case scenario” makes its way into the discussion. When world health organizations are concerned, and governments are concerned, employers are concerned, and so are their employees.
Should employers allow employees to continue to travel to affected areas? Should employees returning from affected areas be permitted to return to work until the incubation period has ended? May an employer ask them about their medical exposures while in the affected areas? What if an employee refuses to travel to an affected area? What can employers communicate to employees about possible exposure to communicable disease?
The medical and legal issues have few clear answers, and with a 90% fatality rate, one does not want to make the wrong judgment. As we watch this medical issue unfold, employer judgments should be driven by the facts, as reported by the CDC and World Health Organization.