The ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) has federal laws in place that prohibit discrimination against people with disabilities, and mainly focus on equal opportunities in employment for the disabled, and accessibility for all in public spaces. There are specific guidelines all businesses must follow in order to be in compliance with the ADA standards. The ADA COVID-19 guidelines for employers are different from the average person.
The Worldwide Pandemic
On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced a global pandemic due to COVID-19. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused unprecedented changes and effects on our entire society, its impact still being felt in every aspect of our community. The COVID-19 pandemic was caused by a new virus that is highly contagious and is believed to have leaked from a lab doing biological warfare research in Wuhan, China.
Employers and the ADA COVID-19 Guidelines
The first thing that happened to address the current circumstances (that significantly affected employers) was the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. Funding for covered employers gave them the ability to provide paid sick leave for employees and expanded medical leave.
The coronavirus disease set a new and different precedent, and during the pandemic would allow an employer to ask an employee who called in sick if they were experiencing symptoms of the coronavirus. Besides the ADA government website, other resources are suggested below.
Health-Related Questions, Temperature Taking Permitted
Normally, the ADA prohibits health questions once the employee begins work, but during the pandemic, it gives them more leeway in order to keep the workplace safe, and not put others at a higher risk. It also allows for them to screen employees coming in, by asking if they have symptoms of COVID-19 and even request the taking of body temperature for all employees before entering the workplace.
Other Requests Permitted
In addition, employers may request a doctor's note stating the worker is fit to return to the workforce upon returning from paid sick time. Employees can also be administered standard COVID-19 tests. Occupational safety within facilities is important to maintain for the prevention of spreading COVID-19.
Concerns about the interactive process during the pandemic may be addressed through the Department of Health and Human Services, which can also provide some guidance and resources for additional information. Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is to be used as guidance.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
For official guidance, resources, and more information as it's learned about the COVID-19 pandemic, employers and others should depend on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, keep in mind that the information is always being updated, and the ADA will align with the newest reporting, so check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website often.
The Department of Health and Human Services
The Department of Health and Human Services suggests a medical diagnosis is necessary for positive coronavirus detection, and health care providers will have their own protective measures to follow. The Health Department can also provide some medical guidance and resources during the COVID-19 pandemic. This Department is not responsible for the current accuracy of the information, however, as it changes constantly.
Follow Current Standard Safety Protocols
Be sure to follow the current standard safety protocols on a national as well as your state level, as some states will require additional measures. Practice mask requirements and social distancing, and require employees to wash their hands often and sanitize their work area before, during, and after a shift. Make sure any employee who is experiencing symptoms leaves the workplace and goes into self-quarantine for 14 days.
ADA-Related Issues Summary
Let's go over the three areas that relate to the ADA specifically in employment and applicants.
- The ADA regulates an employer's questions regarding medical issues related to disabilities, as well as all medical examinations for employees regardless of whether a disability is present or not.
- The ADA states that a disabled employee cannot be prohibited from the workplace unless they present a direct threat to others, even with a reasonable accommodation request.
- The ADA requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations for disabled workers, as long as it does not incur any undue hardship such as too high of an expense, however, you should be able to find a compromise to any reasonable accommodation requests.
So you see, these issues directly relate to the pandemic but really don't change because of it, except in the specific ways we covered above. The only change relating to the current pandemic situation is the presence of symptoms, requiring body temperatures and/or testing for coronavirus, at the work facilities. You can find all the details here.
The only other issue we definitely need to mention is the importance of confidentiality, with regard to medical issues of employees, regardless of disability status. All information obtained that relates to medical information must be kept in a separate, hidden place inaccessible to anyone but you. Medical information is strictly regulated for any employee, and employers should guard this information carefully.
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