What’s on tap today? New COVID-19 guidance from the EEOC and CDC. And it’s Facebook Live at noon EDT.

You’ve hit the trifecta!

CDC says exposed employees can sometimes remain at work

If you operate an essential business, then stop and read this. On Wednesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention came out with some new interim guidance on safety practices for workers who may have been exposed to a person with suspected or confirmed COVID-19.

Here’s the money shot: “To ensure continuity of operations of essential functions, CDC advises that critical infrastructure workers may be permitted to continue work following potential exposure to COVID-19, provided they remain asymptomatic and additional precautions are implemented to protect them and the community.”

Well, that’s new! (Of course, if the employee becomes sick, send the employee home.)

And what are those additional precautions, you ask?

  • Pre-Screen: Employers should measure the employee’s temperature and assess symptoms prior to them starting work. Ideally, temperature checks should happen before the individual enters the facility.
  • Regular Monitoring: As long as the employee doesn’t have a temperature or symptoms, they should self-monitor under the supervision of their employer’s occupational health program.
  • Wear a Mask: The employee should wear a face mask at all times while in the workplace for 14 days after last exposure. Employers can issue facemasks or can approve employees’ supplied cloth face coverings in the event of shortages.
  • Social Distance: The employee should maintain 6 feet and practice social distancing as work duties permit in the workplace.
  • Disinfect and Clean work spaces: Clean and disinfect all areas such as offices, bathrooms, common areas, shared electronic equipment routinely.

Additionally, the CDC has also prepared some printable safety flyers that you can provide to employees.

Meanwhile, the EEOC fills in the gaps on some tricky accommodation issues

Late last month, the EEOC had a 42-minute COVID-19 webinar (that I summarized in 4.2 minutes here).

And yesterday, the agency updated its guidance. Most of the information is repurposed from prior EEOC publications. But, there is some new information, including a new section focusing on reasonable accommodations. Now I will quote from it liberally:

D.1.  If a job may only be performed at the workplace, are there reasonable accommodations for individuals with disabilities absent undue hardship that could offer protection to an employee who, due to a preexisting disability, is at higher risk from COVID-19?  (4/9/20)

There may be reasonable accommodations that could offer protection to an individual whose disability puts him at greater risk from COVID-19 and who therefore requests such actions to eliminate possible exposure.  Even with the constraints imposed by a pandemic, some accommodations may meet an employee’s needs on a temporary basis without causing undue hardship on the employer.

Low-cost solutions achieved with materials already on hand or easily obtained may be effective.  If not already implemented for all employees, accommodations for those who request reduced contact with others due to a disability may include changes to the work environment such as designating one-way aisles; using plexiglass, tables, or other barriers to ensure minimum distances between customers and coworkers whenever feasible per CDC guidance or other accommodations that reduce chances of exposure.

Flexibility by employers and employees is important in determining if some accommodation is possible in the circumstances. Temporary job restructuring of marginal job duties, temporary transfers to a different position, or modifying a work schedule or shift assignment may also permit an individual with a disability to perform safely the essential functions of the job while reducing exposure to others in the workplace or while commuting.

D.2.  If an employee has a preexisting mental illness or disorder that has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, may he now be entitled to a reasonable accommodation (absent undue hardship)? (4/9/20)

Although many people feel significant stress due to the COVID-19 pandemic, employees with certain preexisting mental health conditions, for example, anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or post-traumatic stress disorder, may have more difficulty handling the disruption to daily life that has accompanied the COVID-19 pandemic.

As with any accommodation request, employers may: ask questions to determine whether the condition is a disability; discuss with the employee how the requested accommodation would assist him and enable him to keep working; explore alternative accommodations that may effectively meet his needs; and request medical documentation if needed.

D.3.  In a workplace where all employees are required to telework during this time, should an employer postpone discussing a request from an employee with a disability for an accommodation that will not be needed until he returns to the workplace when mandatory telework ends? (4/9/20)

Not necessarily.  An employer may give higher priority to discussing requests for reasonable accommodations that are needed while teleworking, but the employer may begin discussing this request now.  The employer may be able to acquire all the information it needs to make a decision.  If a reasonable accommodation is granted, the employer also may be able to make some arrangements for the accommodation in advance.

D.4. What if an employee was already receiving a reasonable accommodation prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and now requests an additional or altered accommodation? (4/9/20)

An employee who was already receiving a reasonable accommodation prior to the COVID-19 pandemic may be entitled to an additional or altered accommodation, absent undue hardship.  For example, an employee who is teleworking because of the pandemic may need a different type of accommodation than what he uses in the workplace.  The employer may discuss with the employee whether the same or a different disability is the basis for this new request and why an additional or altered accommodation is needed.

For more information on COVID-19 accommodations, you may also want to check out this resource from the Job Accommodation Network (JAN).

And if you’re still jonesing for COVID-19 HR knowledge, how about a Facebook Live chat?

Today at noon EDT, join me and a special surprise guest on The Employer Handbook Facebook page. We’ll recap our first few weeks in the trenches dealing with FFCRA and CARES Act issues, chat more about some of this recent administrative guidance, and answer your hypothetical questions without providing any sort of legal advice. Got a question, ask it!

P.S. – If you missed yesterday’s Zoom discussion on PA and NJ COVID-19 matters, you can watch that on The Employer Handbook YouTube channel right here. (And if you haven’t subscribed yet, please consider doing so. You’ll get notifications when new videos go live, often before you receive the daily blog post emails.)


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