Employer’s Right to Enforce COVID-19 Policies in Kentucky
vs. Employee’s Right to Refuse
As the novel Coronavirus quickly spreads throughout the nation, misinformation and confusion is on its tail. Many Americans have questions about their rights as employers and employees alike in regard to keeping themselves and their family safe as they return to work.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has released helpful guidance for employers in an effort to make the transition smoother. According to their question and answer article, updated on June 17, 2020, all EEO laws apply during this time but do not interfere with an employer’s right to follow guidance provided by the CDC or any state/local health authorities.
COVID-19 is a new virus for which breakthrough research is being conducted daily. This means that guidance from your local health authorities and the CDC is likely changing on a weekly if not daily basis. Employers are encouraged by the EEOC to designate individuals to interpret the evolving information and implement meaningful policies within their workplace.
Employers have the right and are encouraged to screen employees daily for symptoms of COVID-19 including, but not limited to, questionnaires and body temperature screenings. If an employee is displaying any symptoms of the virus, an employer has the right to ask the employee to leave the premises until well. Employees may be required to provide documentation from a certified healthcare worker proving fitness-for-duty. While COVID-19 testing of employees is permitted by employers to help stop the spread of the virus, antibody testing is not permitted under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. As always, any medical information obtained from employees must be kept confidential.
Employers may also require employees to wear protective gear and observe infection control practices. If an employee has a disability or a religious accommodation, they should discuss this with their employer. The employer is required to make modifications or offer an alternative as long as they are reasonable and do not create an undue hardship on the business. To determine best practices, an employer can ask questions or seek medical documentation confirming the need for accommodation. An employer may also ask employees about their recent personal travels to determine if it is safe for the employee to return to work.
Under OSHA protection standards, ‘very-high risk’ and ‘high risk’ employers must provide their employees with appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE). These employers include healthcare and death care workers who are exposed to known or suspected COVID-19 patients or handle specimens or body parts of such patients.
In the event that an employee refuses to wear a mask or follow protocols set by their employer, the employer cannot assign the employee to work in areas in which they can put other employees at risk. With the exception of medical and religious accommodation, your employment might be subject to termination.
If you have questions regarding your employment protections during the COVID-19 pandemic, please feel free to contact Bill Pinkston at Denton Law Firm located in Paducah, Kentucky, at (270) 442-8253.
Researched and Prepared by Morgan Wiggins