United States: Zika Virus – Concerns For U.S. Employers And Protections For Employees

Although the Zika Virus has been in the news since early January, the active transmission of the virus by mosquitos in Miami, Florida, along with the Zika-related challenges faced by individuals travelling to Rio de Janeiro for the Olympics, have raised new concerns over the virus for employers.

Summary of the Zika Virus Crisis

The Zika virus is primarily spread through the bites of infected mosquitoes. Because of the ease of transmission and the widespread prevalence of the Aedes and Culex mosquitos capable of spreading the virus, the Zika virus has the potential to spread quickly and across the globe. Further, the virus is not confined to places with infected mosquitos, as the Zika virus can also be transmitted through sex, and has been detected in semen, blood, urine, amniotic fluids, saliva as well as body fluids found in the brain and spinal cord.

The Zika virus is not the only mosquito-borne illness that can have serious and debilitating consequences. Many serious mosquito-borne illnesses, such Dengue Fever and the widely-publicized West Nile Virus, are well-known and already present in the United States.

What are the Symptoms of the Zika Virus?

The Zika virus usually causes only mild illness that can last 2-7 days. Current science-based evidence suggests that approximately one out of five infected people develops symptoms of the Zika virus, usually beginning 2-7 days after the bite of an infected mosquito. Although many will not develop any symptoms at all, the most common symptoms include a slight fever or rash, and others may also suffer from conjunctivitis, muscle and joint pain, and fatigue.

There is no known difference in the symptoms of infected pregnant and non-pregnant women.

Possible Implications of the Zika Virus for Pregnant Women

While the symptoms of the Zika Virus for the host are often mild, the possible repercussions of infection for pregnant women have garnered widespread concern and have sparked intense efforts to combat the virus and protect women of childbearing age from infection. The spread of the Zika virus in Brazil resulted in an unprecedented rise in the number of children born with microcephaly (unusually small heads). In addition, several countries, including Brazil, reported a steep increase for all infected individuals in Guillain-Barré syndrome—a neurological disorder that can lead to paralysis and death. There is scientific consensus that the Zika virus is a cause of microcephaly and Guillain-Barré syndrome.

The Centers for Disease Control ("CDC"), the World Health Organization ("WHO"), the Occupational Safety and Health Administration ("OSHA"), and National Institutes for Occupational Safety and Health ("NIOSH"), have all advised that pregnant women should not travel to areas with ongoing Zika virus transmission because of these concerns. This includes both Miami's Wynwood District and Rio de Janeiro. They have also recommended that pregnant women's sex partners returning from areas with circulating Zika virus should practice safe sex or abstain from sex throughout the pregnancy.

How Can the Zika Virus Be Controlled and/or Prevented?

As there is not yet a preventative vaccine for the Zika virus, the best prevention is taking steps to avoid mosquito bites. OSHA and NIOSH have recommended that employers take the following actions to help their employees who work in Zika-infested areas reduce the risk of infection through mosquito-bites:

  • Inform workers about their risks of exposure to the Zika virus through mosquito bites and provide them with literature and/or training about how to protect themselves.
  • Provide insect repellents containing an EPA-registered active ingredient that is effective against mosquitoes and encourage use of the repellants according to the products' instructions.
  • Eliminate sources of standing water (e.g., tires, buckets, cans, bottles, barrels) at the worksite whenever possible to reduce or eliminate mosquito breeding areas. Train workers about the importance of eliminating areas where mosquitos can breed at the worksite.
  • Eliminate unnecessary outdoor work in areas where Zika virus is being actively transmitted.
  • Consider employee concerns relating to the Zika virus.
  • Be aware of Zika's symptoms and encourage employees to seek medical care if they are displaying symptoms.

Employees and individuals should take the following steps:

  • Educate themselves on the risk of exposure and the symptoms.
  • Seek prompt medical care if they are displaying symptoms.
  • Use insect repellant that is effective against mosquitos in accordance with the products' instructions.
  • Wear clothing that minimizes exposed skin.
  • Notify appropriate persons of standing water in or near buildings or structures that could potentially be a breeding ground for mosquitos.
  • Continue to take precautions to prevent mosquito bites even after a diagnosis to avoid further transmission.

Mosquito Protection

The best protection from the Zika virus is preventing mosquito bites. This can be done by:

  • Wearing clothing (preferably light-colored to reduce the chance of heat illness) that covers as much of the body as possible.
  • Using insect repellent. Repellents may be applied to exposed skin or to clothing, and should contain DEET (diethyltoluamide) or IR 3535 or Icaridin, which are the most common biologically active ingredients in insect repellents. Repellents must be used in strict accordance with the label instructions. They are reportedly safe for use by pregnant women.
  • Using physical barriers such mesh screens on doors and windows.
  • Identifying and eliminating potential mosquito breeding sites by emptying, cleaning or covering containers that can hold even small amounts of water, such as buckets, flower pots and tires.

Is it Safe to Come to Work in an Area Where Zika is Transmitted?

Yes, but precautions should be used to avoid mosquito bites. As a practical matter, for most employees, going to work presents the same exposure as leaving the house for any other reason. This is what distinguishes going to work in an area where the Zika virus is spreading from avoiding travel to such an area. Further, this disease will likely continue to spread and there is no known cure. Thus, avoiding the workplace—especially an indoor work environment where mosquitos are not likely to breed—is not an effective solution. Rather, preventing mosquito bites, recognizing the symptoms, and minimizing the risk of further transmission is the best plan of action.

Is it Safe to Work Outside in Florida (or Anywhere Mosquitos are Present)?

Yes, but again precautions should be used to avoid mosquito bites. Employer should consider providing workers with hats with mosquito netting to protect the face and neck. In addition, diligent efforts to eliminate even very small areas of standing water (e.g., tires, buckets, cans, bottles, barrels) should be made to avoid having mosquito breeding sites. Placing mosquito dunks (insecticides that kill mosquito larvae) in water that cannot be eliminated should be considered.

Should Employees in Medical Laboratories and Healthcare Take Extra Precautions?

Yes. Zika may be transmitted through blood and some other bodily fluids, so employees occupationally exposed to these fluids should follow a comprehensive Bloodborne Pathogens ("BBP") program as required by OSHA. Good infection control and biosafety practices (including universal precautions), as appropriate, to prevent or minimize the risk of transmission of infectious agents should protect against transmission of the Zika virus through bodily fluids.

What Should We Say to Employees Who are Concerned About the Zika Virus?

Educate employees on Zika's methods of transmission, explain that transmission risk is very low, assure them that the situation is being monitored by public health agencies that are responsible for these issues, and emphasize good mosquito prevention practices.

Should Employers Immediately Send Home Its Pregnant Employees?

No. The Supreme Court has held that employers cannot treat pregnant employees differently than any other employees. Employers should refrain from asking any employee whether she is pregnant or plans to become pregnant, or any man if his significant other is pregnant or if he plans to become a father. If employees volunteer such information, it should be treated as confidential. Pregnant employees or female employees of childbearing age should not be involuntarily sent home. Instead, it is incumbent on employers to make sure that all employees are educated on the Zika virus's symptoms and modes of transmission in the workplace, as well as on the precautions they should take to avoid mosquitoes and the risk of infection. If employees ask about a leave of absence or the ability to work from home due to the risk to an unborn child, employers should consider the individual request, the available scientific information on the risk based on the workplace, and whether a consistent accommodation can or needs to be made.

May an Employee Refuse to Perform his or her Job Based on Concerns about Zika?

Under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, employees may refuse to work only where there is an objectively "reasonable belief that there is imminent death or serious injury." Refusing to work without such an objective belief may result in disciplinary action by the employer. Given that Zika is spread by mosquito bites, which can be prevented with appropriate precautions, this standard is unlikely to be satisfied, though each request should be considered and evaluated based on the employee's particular circumstances. However, given the level of public interest and concern, employers should exercise caution before taking adverse employment actions due to a refusal to work. Use of counseling, education and other available managerial skills before imposing discipline may be useful tools to avoid confrontations and possible legal challenges.

Can We Require Employees to Get Tested for Zika?

Generally, no. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), employers can require a medical evaluation only if it is justified by business necessity. The ADA permits an employer to request medical information or order a medical examination when the employer has a reasonable belief, based on objective evidence, that an employee will pose a "direct threat" because of a medical condition. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's Pandemic Guidance states that an employer must take direction from the CDC or state/local public health authorities in determining whether an illness is a direct threat, and cannot make that assessment "on subjective perceptions . . . [or] irrational fears." Because Zika is not transmitted from person to person in causal contact, these standards are probably not met in most workplaces at this time.

Can We Quarantine Employees Who Have Recently Traveled to Areas Where the Zika Virus is Being Transmitted?

No. Because Zika is not known to be transmitted from person to person through casual contact, public health agencies have not quarantined persons returning from areas where the Zika virus has been detected. Employers who isolate or quarantine their employees absent further guidance or direction from public health agencies risk liability under medical privacy laws, disability discrimination laws, and state wage and hour laws, as well as potential race and national origin discrimination claims.

What if Someone at Work Gets the Zika Virus?

Again, Zika is not known to be transmitted from person-to-person casual contact. Employees who disclose a Zika diagnosis should be encouraged to use good hygiene practices to prevent transfer of any bodily fluids for up to three weeks after their diagnosis.

Employees should not be harassed, discriminated against, retaliated against, bullied, ostracized, or treated differently because of the Zika virus or fear that an individual may have the Zika virus. This type of conduct is likely a violation of a company's workplace conduct policy and may also implicate state and federal laws providing protections for certain protected classifications.

What Should People Travelling to Zika-Affected Areas Do?

Travelers should inform themselves about the Zika virus and other mosquito-borne diseases, such as chikungunya, dengue and yellow fever, and consult their local health or travel authorities if they are concerned.

Employers must decide whether they will continue to send employees to Zika-affected areas. In considering whether such business travel will be authorized, employers need to consider the importance and nature of the work and its direct potential for mosquito exposure and weigh that against potential reluctance to travel by employees. Employers need to decide whether they will require the travel even if an employee objects. And finally, employers need to decide whether they will accept the CDC recommendations against travel for pregnant employees.

While employers cannot prohibit its employees from travelling based on concerns related to the Zika virus, pregnant women should be advised of the CDC recommendation not to travel to areas of ongoing Zika virus transmission. Pregnant women whose sexual partners live in or travel to areas with Zika virus transmission should ensure safe sexual practices or abstain from sex for the duration of their pregnancy.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of www.mondaq.com

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about Mondaq.com’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to unsubscribe@mondaq.com with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to webmaster@mondaq.com.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to EditorialAdvisor@mondaq.com.

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at enquiries@mondaq.com.

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at problems@mondaq.com and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.