During unprecedented times that see a worldwide health crisis has made change the rule, not the exception, one constant remains in workplaces. Employers must ensure strict adherence to the Equal Employment Opportunity laws, specifically the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), Rehabilitation Act, and other regulations.
The COVID-19 pandemic continues to evolve, requiring employers to continually adapt their workplaces – both remote and onsite – as information changes when it relates to workplace safety. That includes issues surrounding disability discrimination and failure to accommodate to the COVID-19 landscape.
Pandemic Preparedness in Place
Pandemic Preparedness in the Workplace and the Americans With Disabilities Act predates the spread of coronavirus. Written in the midst of the H1N1 outbreak, the document has been updated to reflect the information and examples regarding the current health crisis.
Employers should continue to maintain safe work settings based on the most current information. When senior management is ready to welcome staff back into the workplace, they should provide ample time for the switch back and communicate the following:
- Contact information for the person responsible for receiving requests for workplace flexibility, accommodations, and any other related concerns
- Specific data on CDC-listed medical conditions where staff could be at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19
- Clarification that a family member’s susceptibility to the virus does not mandate an accommodation. However, that does not preclude companies from being flexible with those employees
Some businesses may feel that they should exclude employees 65 or older, and staff members who are pregnant from the workplace based on the COVID-related risks. However, those decisions violate The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) and Title VII, respectively.
Fear still permeates the nation, with many holding China responsible for the worldwide health emergency. Employers should ensure that Chinese and others of Asian descent are not subject to discrimination or harassment in workplaces. Proactive steps through education are paramount, as are immediate responses to any inappropriate behavior, whether in person or via email.