BY: Tad T. Roumayah | IN: COVID-19, Employment Law
Much has changed in the short (but seemingly much longer) time we have been living with the COVID-19 pandemic, but many things remain the same. This includes the obligations employers have under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). While employers still must avoid disability-based discrimination and make reasonable accommodations for disabled candidates or employees, the unique health, safety, and privacy issues raised by the virus can create confusion or uncertainty.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which enforces workplace discrimination laws, emphasizes that companies need to remain mindful of their ongoing anti-discrimination responsibilities during the pandemic. However, the EEOC also recognizes that employers should heed the guidance of local authorities and national health officials like the CDC concerning the health and safety of their workforces. To bring clarity to an unprecedented and continuously evolving situation, the EEOC has issued guidance on several ADA-related issues that intersect with the pandemic.
Some highlights of the EEOC’s guidance include:
Ensuring that any employees who exhibit symptoms of COVID-19 stay at home and away from the workplace is an essential element of workplace safety. The CDC states that employees who become ill with symptoms of COVID-19 should leave the workplace, and according to the EEOC, “the ADA does not interfere with employers following this advice.” But screening can raise privacy and discrimination issues if handled inadequately.
The EEOC advises the following for screening of existing employees and job candidates for COVID-19:
In the context of COVID-19, the need to make reasonable accommodations does not relate to individuals who have or show symptoms of the virus. Rather, the issue arises with regard to individuals who have disabilities that may put them at higher risk for infection.
For jobs that can only be performed in the workplace, employers may need to make reasonable accommodations that offer increased protections for disabled employees. Many employers likely have taken steps for their workforces as a whole that could constitute reasonable accommodations, such as designating one-way aisles or installing plexiglass, tables, or other barriers to ensure minimum distances between customers and coworkers.
Additionally, “temporary job restructuring of marginal job duties, temporary transfers to a different position, or modifying a work schedule or shift assignment may also permit an individual with a disability to perform the essential functions of the job safely while reducing exposure to others in the workplace or while commuting.”
As to employers’ obligations to make reasonable accommodations for COVID-19, the EEOC also advises:
If you have questions regarding your company’s ADA obligations during and after the pandemic, or have any other employment-related concerns arising from COVID-19, please contact the employment law attorneys at Sommers Schwartz today. We are working remotely and are still here to help.
View all posts byTad T. Roumayah
Tad Roumayah focuses his practice primarily on employment litigation, representing employees who have encountered discrimination, retaliation, wrongful discharge, whistleblower protection claims, wage and hour violations and other employment issues and disputes.