The increased media attention related to the Ebola virus, as well as the recent announcement that travelers arriving at certain U.S. airports from West Africa will be screened for fever, may prompt questions from your employees, customers, communities and media about safety.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is the most credible and knowledgeable source providing information about Ebola. According to CDC, Ebola is a severe, often fatal disease in humans and nonhuman primates (such as monkeys, gorillas and chimpanzees) currently impacting multiple countries in West Africa.
The CDC also has a Q-and-A available regarding transmission of the virus that makes clear that person-to-person transmission occurs through direct contact with body fluids of a person who has symptoms of Ebola disease. The CDC also has an infographic stating that, in the U.S., Ebola cannot be contracted through air, water or food. Perhaps the most important message in CDC’s materials is that “Ebola poses no significant risk to the United States.”
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) “Ebola Safety and Health Topics” website provides important information for workers and employers. Worker safety with regard to Ebola transmission follows the same, straightforward approach as the influenza protocols previously developed for the H1N1 flu strain.
The basic employment laws still apply to Ebola issues. ADA regulations prohibit an employer from making “disability-related inquiries” or requiring medical examinations in the absence of a job-related business necessity. Thus, while a worker might be questioned about a recent trip to a country in which the disease is prevalent, such a worker may not be required to stay home from work unless the employee has exhibited symptoms of the disease, and thus is a “direct threat” to the health and safety of others. OSHA law prohibits employers from retaliating against employees who refuse to work because they fear for their safety, which could also be an issue regarding Ebola. The biggest problem in many situations has been a lack of information about Ebola, and rumors can bring about panic.
Jeffrey G. Jones is a regional managing member for Wimberly Lawson Wright Daves & Jones PLLC. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.