Employers across the United States are starting to think about the legal issues they could face if an employee is exposed to the Ebola virus. There have been eight known cases of Ebola in this country, but hundreds or more U.S. residents may have been exposed. Risk of exposure has employers worried about legal risks despite low odds that their employees will be affected by the virus.
Ebola is unlikely to come to most workplaces, but a growing number of companies are already wisely preparing for legal issues that could arise if an employee is exposed to Ebola. Employers are wondering if the presence of a deadly contagious virus creates an exception to the federal law that prohibits asking employees about their medical issues. They also want to know if they can fire workers who refuse to deal with contaminated people or equipment. Another issue is whether an employer can make an individual exposed directly or indirectly to the virus stay home for the 21-day incubation period without pay.
These questions are weightier for the employers whose employees have been exposed to the virus, including:
- Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas
- Carnival Cruise Lines
- United and Fronteir Airlines
- Dulles, Kennedy, Dallas-Fort Worth, O’Hare, Cleveland Hopkins, Hartsfield-Jackson, and Newark Liberty Airports
- The Cleveland Clinic
- Aultman Hospital in Canton
- MetroHealth Medical System and Center in Cleveland
- Emory University Hospital in Atlanta
- NIH Clinical Center in Bethesda.
The Ebola virus can live two to three days outside the body on a piece of paper, a doorknob or the skin.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) limits what an employer can ask about an employee’s health, but the law does not place limits on an employer’s ability to inquire about an employee’s travel to gauge potential exposure and risks. The ADA also permits an employer to request medical information when the employer has a reasonable belief that an employee will pose a direct threat to others.
The two hospital with nurses in quarantine are paying them while they are required to stay away from work.