New Guidance for Seattle-Area Workplaces

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recently
issued guidance
for businesses in King, Pierce and Snohomish Counties.  The CDC’s guidance encourages extensive
mitigation activities in these areas to help combat the spread of COVID-19.  Additionally, the Occupational Safety and
Health Administration (OSHA) released updated guidance to
help employers keep their workplaces safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Image of Coronovirus from the CDC on Unsplash

The CDC guidance recommends every
Seattle-area employer implement the following strategies:

  • Encourage staff to telework
  • Expand sick leave policies
  • Implement social distancing measures by spacing
    workers, staggering work schedules, limiting in-person meetings, thoroughly
    disinfecting break or eating areas
  • Eliminate large non-work gatherings
  • Postpone non-essential work travel
  • Conduct regular health checks on arrival each
    day (e.g., temperature and respiratory system screening) of staff and visitors
    entering buildings;
  • Ensure flexible leave arrangements for staff who
    need to stay home, including for school closures, and encourage people to stay
    home when they are sick
  • Cancel work sponsored conference/trade shows

Although most of these recommendations
are consistent with previous guidance from the CDC, the recommendation that
employers conduct employee health screenings is new.  Previously, health checks of employees raised
potential concerns under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  The ADA protects employees from employer
inquiries into an employee’s medical status or from employer-conducted medical
examinations.  Taking an employee’s
temperature can be considered a medical examination, and the practice is
generally prohibited except when job-related or consistent with business
necessity. 

Although the EEOC’s Pandemic Preparedness Guidance
(issued in 2009 in connection with the H1N1 virus) cautions employers against
taking employee temperatures, the CDC now advises employers in King, Snohomish
and Pierce counties to conduct regular employee health screenings, including by
taking temperatures.  The EEOC recently
acknowledged
that the ADA does not interfere with or prevent employers from
following guidelines and suggestions made by the CDC about steps employers
should take regarding the coronavirus. 

OSHA’s guidance generally reinforces
the strategies recommended by the CDC, including by encouraging good hygiene
practices and instructing sick employees to remain or go home.  In addition, OSHA recommends all employers
develop an infectious disease preparedness and response plan, and stay informed
on the latest guidance.  OSHA advises
employers to communicate frequently and keep their employees apprised as to the
efforts being taken to protect them.

Please contact one of MPBA’s employment attorneys,
including Tammy Roe (troe@mpba.com) and Sara Campbell (scampbell@mpba.com), with any questions
and for additional information.  

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