Thursday, June 11, 2020

New EEOC & OSHA COVID-19 Updates Covering the ADA and Cloth Face Coverings

The EEOC updated it’s What You Should Know About COVID-19 and the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act, and Other EEO Laws - Covering:
  • Employees are not entitled to an accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act to avoid exposing a family member who is at higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19 due to an underlying medical condition. 
Although the ADA prohibits discrimination based on association with an individual with a disability, that protection is limited to disparate treatment or harassment. The ADA does not require that an employer accommodate an employee without a disability based on the disability-related needs of a family member or other person with whom she is associated. 
For example, an employee without a disability is not entitled under the ADA to telework as an accommodation in order to protect a family member with a disability from potential COVID-19 exposure. 
  • Steps an employer can take if an employee entering the worksite requests an alternative method of screening due to a medical condition.
This is a request for reasonable accommodation, and an employer should proceed as it would for any other request for accommodation under the ADA or the Rehabilitation Act. If the requested change is easy to provide and inexpensive, the employer might voluntarily choose to make it available to anyone who asks, without going through an interactive process. Alternatively, if the disability is not obvious or already known, an employer may ask the employee for information to establish that the condition is a disability and what specific limitations require an accommodation. If necessary, an employer also may request medical documentation to support the employee’s request, and then determine if that accommodation or an alternative effective accommodation can be provided, absent undue hardship. 
Similarly, if an employee requested an alternative method of screening as a religious accommodation, the employer should determine if accommodation is available under Title VII.
  • Employees age 65 and over are at higher risk for a severe case of COVID-19 if they contract the virus subsequently the CDC has encouraged employers to offer maximum flexibilities to this group. Employers must be mindful that employees over age 65 have protections under the federal employment discrimination laws and are prohibited from involuntarily excluding an individual from the workplace based on his or her being 65 or older, even if the employer acted for benevolent reasons such as protecting the employee due to higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19.
  • Employers may not exclude an employee from the workplace involuntarily due to pregnancy.
  • A right to accommodation based on pregnancy continues during the pandemic.
There are two federal employment discrimination laws that may trigger accommodation for employees based on pregnancy.
First, pregnancy-related medical conditions may themselves be disabilities under the ADA, even though pregnancy itself is not an ADA disability. If an employee makes a request for reasonable accommodation due to a pregnancy-related medical condition, the employer must consider it under the usual ADA rules. 
Second, Title VII as amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act specifically requires that women affected by pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions be treated the same as others who are similar in their ability or inability to work. This means that a pregnant employee may be entitled to job modifications, including telework, changes to work schedules or assignments, and leave to the extent provided for other employees who are similar in their ability or inability to work. Employers should ensure that supervisors, managers, and human resources personnel know how to handle such requests to avoid disparate treatment in violation of Title VII.
OSHA, COVID-19, and Cloth Face Coverings - On June 10, 2020, OSHA released frequently asked questions and answers related to COVID-19 and cloth face coverings addressing:
  • The key differences between cloth face coverings, surgical masks, and respirators.
  • That OSHA’s PPE standards do not require employers to provide cloth face coverings because they are not considered personal protective equipment (PPE) and are not intended to be used when workers need PPE for protection against exposure to occupational hazards.
  • OSHA’s recommendation that employers encourage workers to wear face coverings at work for source control purposes. Face coverings are intended to prevent wearers who have COVID-19 without knowing it (i.e., those who are asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic) from spreading potentially infectious respiratory droplets to others (this is source control).
  • Cloth face coverings do not substitute for social distancing measures.
  • Surgical masks or cloth face coverings are not acceptable respiratory protection in the construction industry when respirators are needed but not available due to the pandemic.