Education, preparation are watchwords

As the specter of Ebola looms over the U.S., our healthcare system, and potentially our workplaces, we're seeing new guidance from legal and other experts in the private sector and government agencies, and dusting off of advisories from the past.

Littler, a national employment and labor law firm with a New Haven office, has posted a series of articles identifying concerns, preparations, and actions employers need to begin exploring, including travel restrictions, medical inquiries, possible quarantines for employees returning from overseas travel, leave strategies, and employee and management education.

National employment law firm Jackson Lewis P.C., with offices in Hartford, has also posted an informative article for employers, "Confronting Ebola Concerns in the Workplace," which addresses workplace safety and health considerations, as well as various labor and employment laws that come into play.

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have posted extensive information on their websites regarding the nature of the disease, the extent of its current spread, and recommended preventive measures in various settings.

Guidance materials on "pandemic preparedness" from 2009 prepared by the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) addresses the scope of medical inquires or workplace restrictions by employers permissible under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), based on employees' appearance, recent travel, or other observations that suggest a risk of disease transmission at work.

Additional guidance on the Pandemic Flu and the FMLA, prepared by the U.S. Labor Department Wage and Hour Division several years ago is applicable to Ebola issues: providing or requiring time off, paid or unpaid, and medical documentation related to both employees and family members.

Thus far, education and preparation seem to the watchwords for most employers. HR professionals are likely to be sought out in many workplaces and communities on how best to sustain productive, safe workplaces. As you come across helpful information, we invite you to share it with us at CBIA, and we in turn will attempt to disseminate it to the business community.