Business is being disrupted, employees are not showing up to work, travelers are re-routing their flights, and panic has ensued; if workplaces aren’t scary enough to begin with, now you have to contend with the Ebola virus at work. What should you do?
First and foremost, don’t panic or contribute to the panic. According to the CDC, “Ebola is a very low risk for most travelers – it is spread through direct contact with the blood or other body fluids of a sick person, so travelers can protect themselves by avoiding sick people.” (Click here for full CDC article regarding Ebola FAQs.) Yes, those of us in Dallas may be at a higher risk, but that risk is still tiny.
Second, in your haste to react, try not to violate applicable workplace laws. Remember that if you are an employer covered by the ADA, you have to abide by the confidentiality provisions of the ADA and you should not release medical information related to your employees or information which could reasonably identify them. Similarly, medical information received in connection with a request for FMLA leave should also be kept confidential. Obviously, FMLA leave can be made available for those employees who have been exposed to other individuals diagnosed with the Ebola virus or who are under close observation and monitoring. If you have a suspected case of Ebola at work, don’t immediately rush to send out a notification letter. Gather the facts (not the rumors) and immediately consult with an infectious disease expert and your lawyer about the careful wording of the notification letter and the best course of action. If HIPAA applies to you as a healthcare provider or healthcare plan, be careful of HIPAA violations.
Third, adopt common-sense policies or protocols. Remember the H1N1flu a few years ago? Employers put in reasonable low-cost measures to help stop the spread of that disease, such as extra hand-sanitizing stations and posters reminding employees to frequently wash their hands. You can adopt such measures at work and also remind employees of common sense policies (i.e. don’t come to work/events if you are running a fever of 101.5° or greater). You can also request that employees notify you if they plan to conduct overseas travel in Ebola-affected areas or if they have been in contact with someone diagnosed with or suspected of having the Ebola virus. If employees are quarantined or asked by the CDC or local health authorities to stay home, then you can grant unpaid time off or FMLA leave. If you are asked to send employees home, you may be required to pay those FLSA-exempt employees, but not your non-exempt employees.
Fourth, knowledge is power. Employers can’t stop the spread of a communicable disease, but you can use resources to help educate yourself and your employees (and dispel much misinformation about the Ebola virus) and institute protocols necessary for your business. There are many resources available, some of which are listed below. Learn and be prepared. That’s all we can do, for the time being.
- CDC Videos
- White House Videos
- CDC in Action [PDF - 1 page]
- Stopping the Ebola Outbreak Infographic [PDF - 1 page]
- Facts About Ebola in the U.S. Infographic [PDF - 1 page]
- What You Need To Know About Ebola [PDF - 2 pages]
- Ebola Factsheet [PDF - 3 pages]
- Infection Prevention and Control Recommendations for Hospitalized Patients with Known or Suspected Ebola Virus Disease in U.S. Hospitals
- Interim Guidance for Specimen Collection, Transport, Testing, and Submission for Persons Under Investigation for Ebola Virus Disease in the United States
- Ebola Outbreaks 2000-2014