Are we really ready for a discussion on mandatory Ebola screening in the workplace? A growing number of legal experts are now debating just that.
“This appears premature as there have, as far as I know, been no incidents of Ebola in Canada,” Howard Levitt, a principal at Toronto- and Richmond Hill-based employment and labour law firm Levitt & Grosman LLP, told HRM Online. “If there is concern, then management can advise employees that they will be posting all news on the entrance of Ebola to Canada to its employees can monitor if there is any risk of a threat.”
Should that risk become an active concern, Levitt suggests that managers first broadly post the symptoms of Ebola and then warn employees that anyone experiencing any of these symptoms not report to work and that to do so would be cause for termination. “Such employees should be required to have no direct contact with any employee other than by telephone,” he said.
Any employees with these symptoms should then be put in touch with a member of the employer’s medical or human resources team, who are to work with them to provide appropriate medical care. Similarly, Levitt said, any employee returning from quarantined international areas shouldn’t be allowed to be in the workplace without medical clearance.
Furthermore, employees must be paid for time off, but employers should be apprised of the employee’s medical treatment in order for salary to continue. Management also has the right to be advised whether the employee has been in contact with any other employee of the company, and employees should be required to not be in such contact during the period of their work quarantine.
“The employee should not be permitted to reattend work unless approved by a medical practitioner with familiarity with the disease,” Levitt said.
Allen Smith, manager of workplace law content for the Society for Human Resource Management, recently wrote that it may be acceptable for U.S. employers to screen certain workers for Ebola.
“Employers concerned about the spread of the Ebola virus in the United States don’t have to sit on their hands and do nothing, even if the risk of the disease spreading is low,” Smith wrote. “After all, the Ebola virus can lie dormant up to 21 days after exposure to the disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Someone with the condition may manage to sail through checks at the airports or arrive at any number of other entry points in the United States.”
Smith quoted Kevin Troutman, an attorney with Fisher & Phillips in Houston. Troutman argued that while the Americans with Disabilities Act bans employee medical exams except in limited cases, the Ebola outbreak may qualify as an exception.
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