Americans with Disabilities Act and COVID-19

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Please visit our COVID-19 resources page with more information for business owners and employees.

Updated ADA guidelines have been issued in light of COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic is presenting unique challenges to people from all walks of life. In times such as these, we see people join together to fight for the common good — whether that’s social distancing, wearing masks, or working from home. While making adjustments during this time may require additional flexibility, it’s important to remember we’re making changes to help mitigate risk for one another, our loved ones, and our communities as a whole, as well as our at-risk citizens.  

Business is certainly not as usual right now, so it’s important to be sure your company is actively following anti-discrimination laws, including the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA’s employment laws apply to businesses with 15 or more employees. 

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued guidance regarding ADA laws in the workplace during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The ADA prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in jobs, schools, transportation, and all public and private places open to the public. It also requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations in the workplace. 

Let’s take a look at some highlights of the ADA guidance issued by the EEOC:

To protect the rest of its workforce, how much information can an employer request from an employee who calls in sick during the COVID-19 pandemic? 

When a pandemic is declared, employers are allowed to ask these employees if they are experiencing any symptoms of the current pandemic virus. Employers are required to maintain all information about an employee’s illness as a confidential medical record in compliance with the ADA. 

Can an ADA-covered employer take an employee’s temperature during the COVID-19 pandemic?

In general, taking an employee’s body temperature is considered a medical examination. However, since the CDC and state/local health authorities have acknowledged the community spread of COVID-19, employers are allowed to measure employees’ body temperature in this instance. If you’re choosing to take employee’s body temperatures, it must be done consistently among all employees to avoid singling out any one person. 

For individuals with a preexisting disability who are at higher risk from COVID-19, are there reasonable accommodations that could offer protections if a job can only be performed at the workplace? 

There may be reasonable accommodations that could offer protection to an individual whose disability puts them at greater risk from COVID-19 and requests accommodations to reduce possible exposure. With the constraints imposed by the pandemic, some accommodations may meet an employee’s needs on a temporary basis without causing undue hardship on the employer. Flexibility from employers and employees is important in determining if some accommodation is possible in the circumstances.  

What if an employee was already receiving a reasonable accommodation prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and now requests additional or altered accommodation? 

An employee who was already receiving a reasonable accommodation prior to the COVID-19 pandemic may be entitled to additional or altered accommodation, as long as it doesn’t put undue hardship on the employer. The EEOC states an employee who is teleworking because of COVID-19 may need different accommodations than what they used in the workplace. The employer may discuss with the employee whether the same or a different disability is the basis for this new request and why a new accommodation is needed. 

During a pandemic, if an employee requests an accommodation for a medical condition either at home or in the workplace, may an employer still request information to determine if the condition is a disability? 

Yes. If it’s not obvious or not already known, an employer can ask questions or request medical documentation to determine whether the employee has a disability as defined by the ADA. 

For an extended list of ADA guidelines, other EEOC laws, and more resources related to COVID-19, visit the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission website.  

As the COVID-19 situation is constantly changing, Nextep’s HR experts are ready to help guide you and your business through this. If you have any questions about how these guidelines impact your business, contact your HR business partner or call us at 888.811.5150. 

For more resources on COVID-19, check out our resources page

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