Laws for the Disabled are Being Tested During COVID

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected everything from the way that we shop, the way that we educate our children and the way that people with special needs do their jobs. Coronavirus has also had a significant impact on laws for those disabled and the way that employers manage people with disabilities. 

In 2009, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which enforces laws for those disabled in the workplace and supports people with special needs, set forth guidelines to assist employers in dealing with H1N1. Those guidelines are still appropriate for dealing with the coronavirus pandemic today while considering laws for those disabled.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission enforces laws for those disabled, including the Rehabilitation Act and Americans with Disabilities Act. These laws for all kinds of employees, including people with special needs, remain in force during a pandemic. However, employers must also comply with the evolving guidelines from public health authorities that address issues related to COVID-19 and people with disabilities specifically.

Employers Can Send Home Workers with Flu-Like Symptoms

According to laws for those disabled, employers are limited when it comes to inquiring about their employees’ health. For example, people with disabilities may not be confronted about their medical history before their potential employer makes a job offer. 

But employers are permitted to ask health-related questions of their existing employees if medical issues are relevant to job performance. They may also ask people with disabilities to take a medical exam that relates to job performance if every applicant must take the same exam.

During a pandemic, employees can be confronted about COVID-related symptoms, such as coughing, shortness of breath, inability to smell or taste, body temperature, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. An employer can send an employee home if their symptoms pose a direct threat to the rest of the workforce.

If an employee is absent from work, they can be confronted about the reason. The employee may also be confronted to present a doctor’s note before they return to the office.

Employees May NOT Be Confronted About Other Medical Conditions

In some case, employees with certain medical conditions, such as lung disease, may be at a greater risk of developing serious complications from COVID-19. However, they may not be confronted about their medical history if they do not have symptoms that are indicative of or related to COVID-19. 

If an employer is confronted by an employee who reveals the info voluntarily, the employer must keep it confidential. In some cases, people with special needs may want to disclose their medical information to their employer. Accommodations may need to be made if a job can only be performed at a specific location. Temporary adaptations can help meet the needs of people with disabilities if they do not cause undue hardship on the employer.

When addressing medical conditions, employers may ask people with special needs about:

  • Whether the medical issue is a disability
  • How an accommodation could benefit people with special needs
  • Medical documentation for people with disabilities
  • Alternative accommodations that could be explored

Employers Can Encourage Infection-Control Strategies

It is perfectly acceptable for an employer to promote infection-control strategies, such as:

  • Telecommuting
  • Handwashing
  • Proper tissue usage and disposal

An employer may even require its employees to wear masks or other personal protective equipment. If people with special needs cannot carry out those measures, the employer should provide an alternative. For example, an employer should make non-latex gloves available if an employee has a latex allergy.

Labor laws for those disabled can be confusing, especially during a pandemic. If you are an employer, make sure that you keep up with the changing laws for those disabled that are related to COVID-19 and people with disabilities so that you can support your employees.

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