United States: Zika Virus And The Workplace: What Employers Should Know

News that the Zika virus has reached the United States may be prompting employers to think more closely about employee safety and what steps should be taken to address disease prevention and management in the workplace.

What Is Zika?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Zika is a virus that is spread to humans primarily through the bite of an infected mosquito. The CDC states that many people infected with Zika will not have any symptoms or will experience only mild symptoms that may include fever, rash, joint or muscle pain, conjunctivitis (pink eye), or headache. Symptoms, if they appear, generally last several days to a week, and most people infected with Zika do not feel sick enough to seek medical attention. As a result, many people may not realize that they have been infected.

While Zika is primarily mosquito-borne, a person infected with Zika can also transmit the disease via sexual contact, even if the infected person is not experiencing symptoms at the time. Pregnant women infected with Zika can also transmit the virus to the fetus during pregnancy or around the time of birth.

Zika infection during pregnancy has been found in some cases to cause serious birth defects including microcephaly and related brain anomalies, and also has been linked to increased risk of eye problems, hearing loss, impaired growth, and other complications following birth. For adults, Zika has been linked to an increased risk of Guillain-Barré Syndrome, which is an uncommon nervous system condition in which a person's own immune system damages nerve cells, causing muscle weakness and sometimes paralysis.

The Zika virus can be detected by a blood or a urine test. Currently, there is no specific medicine to treat Zika virus disease.

Managing Employee Exposure

The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared a global health emergency over the spread of Zika, with at least 66 countries and territories reporting evidence of Zika virus transmission. As a result, the CDC has issued travel notices for a number of countries and territories in the Caribbean, Central America, South America, and the Pacific Islands, as well as Mexico and Cape Verde, where Zika transmission has been reported. In addition, Zika transmission by mosquitos has been reported in Wynwood, Florida, a neighborhood of Miami. As of the date of this post, all of the CDC's travel notices are designated Alert Level 2, which advises travelers to practice enhanced precautions while traveling. Presently, no affected location has been designated Alert Level 3, which advises against nonessential travel in all cases.

Nevertheless, learning that an employee has recently traveled to an affected area can raise concerns about the employee's health and the safety of others in the workplace. Employers must remember, however, that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) places certain restrictions on the kinds of inquiries that may be made into an employee's medical status.

The ADA permits an employer to request medical information or order a medical examination of an employee when the employer has a reasonable belief, based on objective evidence, that the employee poses a "direct threat" because of a medical condition. In its 2009 Guidance on Pandemic Preparedness in the Workplace and the Americans with Disabilities Act released in the wake of the H1N1 flu pandemic, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) 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."

As discussed, Zika is primarily spread to humans through the bite of an infected mosquito, and human-to-human transmission presently has been reported only via sexual contact or during pregnancy. There is currently no evidence that an individual infected with Zika can spread the virus via casual contact, such as through touching, sneezing or coughing, or sharing food or drinks. As a result, there is presently no objective evidence that an employee infected with Zika may pose a direct threat in the workplace. Employers therefore should not require employees who have recently traveled to an affected area to provide any medical information or submit to a medical examination as a condition of returning to work.

However, employers must ensure that they are in compliance with employee safety laws and regulations as they relate to Zika virus. This includes companies that may have employees traveling to or temporarily or permanently stationed in affected areas, and particularly employees who will be performing outdoor work. The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) has issued interim guidance on protecting workers from occupational exposure to Zika virus. The guidance recommends that employers take several steps to protect workers who perform outdoor duties, including:

  • informing workers about their risks of exposure to Zika virus through mosquito bites and training them on how to protect themselves;
  • providing insect repellents and encouraging their use;
  • providing workers with clothing that covers their hands, arms, legs, and other exposed skin and considering providing hats with mosquito netting to protect the face and neck;
  • removing sources of standing water (e.g., buckets, barrels, etc.) wherever possible to reduce or eliminate mosquito breeding areas; and
  • if requested by a worker, considering reassigning an employee who indicates that she is or may become pregnant, or who has a sexual partner who is or may become pregnant, to indoor tasks to reduce their risk of mosquito exposure.

Zika and Work-Related Travel

As noted above, the CDC's travel notices currently do not advocate a total travel ban for any of the affected areas, but rather advise travelers to practice enhanced precautions while traveling. However, all of the travel notices do advise that pregnant women should avoid travel to affected locations. The travel notices further advise female travelers who are trying to become pregnant to speak with their healthcare provider about their travel plans and to take special precautions to prevent mosquito bites while in the affected locations. Individuals who have a pregnant partner and have traveled to one of the affected locations are also advised to avoid sexual contact or to use barrier protection at all times during the pregnancy.

As a result, employers whose businesses require employee travel to affected areas may wonder what, if any, steps they should be taking to protect vulnerable employees. The following general guidance should be kept in mind:

  • As discussed above, the ADA limits employer inquiries into an employee's health condition or medical status. As such, employers should avoid asking employees whether they are or plan to become pregnant or inquiring about a pregnant employee's medical status, even if such employee may potentially be asked to travel to an affected area.
  • While employers are free to institute a complete ban on work-related travel to affected areas for all employees, they should avoid unilaterally placing travel restrictions on specific employees. This is true even if an employee has stated that she is pregnant or plans to become pregnant in the near future (or has a partner that is or plans to become pregnant). Under the ADA and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (as well as related state and local laws), employees are not required to accept accommodations that they do not want, even if an employer is offering the accommodation with the safety of the employee or the employee's fetus or partner in mind. Imposing an individual travel restriction without the consent of an employee therefore may result in claims of discrimination on the basis of sex or disability.
  • However, employers should provide all employees who may be asked to travel to an affected area on business with a mechanism for requesting an accommodation or discussing their concerns about the travel. Employers may then consider each situation on a case-by-case basis and take appropriate individualized action. In cases of a pregnant employee or one who plans (or whose partner plans) to become pregnant in the near future, an employer may be required to allow the employee to refrain from or postpone travel to affected areas or be assigned to indoor duty while in affected areas as a reasonable accommodation.
  • Employers should provide employees traveling to affected areas with the latest information issued by the CDC on travel precautions. The CDC's travel notices provide guidance on proper precautions for travelers to take to reduce the risk of Zika infection. These include covering exposed skin, using insect repellents that contain DEET or other approved ingredients, using specially treated clothing and gear, and staying and sleeping in screened-in, air conditioned rooms wherever possible (or sleeping with a mosquito bed net). Employers should also consider providing or reimbursing employees for the purchase of recommended protective measures, such as insect repellant or protective clothing.
  • Employers should also consider reimbursing for the cost of Zika virus testing for employees who may wish to take advantage of it following work-related travel to an affected area. (However, as noted above, employers should not require such testing as a condition of returning to work). While there is currently no cure or treatment for Zika infection, such testing would allow employees to be aware of their infection status so that they can take appropriate precautions with regard to pregnancy.

Conclusion

Information about Zika virus is constantly evolving, so employers should continue to monitor the CDC, WHO and OSHA websites for the latest on appropriate precautions, including changes to travel notices.

Employers should also consider implementing a communicable disease response policy or reviewing any policy that may already be in place. At a minimum, such a policy should address mechanisms for distributing updated information to employees regarding communicable diseases that may impact the workplace and appropriate precautionary measures, as well as provide a means for employees concerned about workplace exposure to address such concerns with human resources and to request accommodations where appropriate. Having such an action plan already in place will best position an employer to manage Zika or any future health crises that may impact their workforce and help to mitigate legal risks to the greatest extent possible.

Zika Virus And The Workplace: What Employers Should Know

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.

Authors
Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
McLane Middleton, Professional Association
Fisher Phillips LLP
 
In association with
Related Topics
 
Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
McLane Middleton, Professional Association
Fisher Phillips LLP
Related Articles
 
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Tools
Print
Font Size:
Translation
Channels
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
Password
Confirm Password
Position
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Accounting
 Anti-trust
 Commercial
 Compliance
 Consumer
 Criminal
 Employment
 Energy
 Environment
 Family
 Finance
 Government
 Healthcare
 Immigration
 Insolvency
 Insurance
 International
 IP
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Litigation
 Media & IT
 Privacy
 Real Estate
 Strategy
 Tax
 Technology
 Transport
 Wealth Mgt
Regions
Africa
Asia
Asia Pacific
Australasia
Canada
Caribbean
Europe
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
U.K.
United States
Worldwide Updates
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of www.mondaq.com

To Use Mondaq.com you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

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 or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.

Disclaimer

The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq 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 of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.

General

Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions