The EEOC has released guidance that first affirms that all of the laws it enforces are still in full effect during COVID-19. However, the guidance explains that these laws should not interfere or prevent employers from following health guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) or other public health authorities. The EEOC also warned employers that CDC and public health guidance will continue to change as the pandemic evolves, so employers should follow the most current information on maintaining workplace safety.
The EEOC’s guidance provides the following:
- Health risk inquiries: Employers may ask employees if they or anyone in their home have tested positive for COVID-19, have taken a test for the virus, or have symptoms associated with COVID-19. Employers are not permitted, however, to ask these questions to teleworking employees. Employers may also require employees to have their temperatures taken before entering the employer’s premises.
- Confidentiality: All medical information gathered by employers about their employees regarding COVID-19, including information about symptoms and body temperatures, is confidential medical information. Therefore, this information should be stored separately in a medical file. An employer can tell a public health agency if it learns an employee has COVID-19. Employers must take measures to limit the dissemination of employee health information and limit the number of people who are told the name of an infected employee.
- “High risk” employees: Employers may not exclude from work employees who have been identified as high risk, such as pregnant women, who neither have symptoms of COVID-19 nor have tested positive for COVID-19.
- Hiring and onboarding: Employers can screen job applicants for symptoms of COVID-19 after making a conditional offer of employment, as long as it does so for all applicants for that position. Employers can also delay the start date if an applicant has COVID-19 or withdraw the job offer if the employer needs the applicant to start immediately.
- Reasonable accommodations and PPE: While an employer can always require its employees to wear PPE, employers should be prepared to make reasonable accommodations based on disabilities, such as breathing conditions or allergies to certain materials. Religious accommodations can also be raised by employees based on the requirement to wear PPE.