Pandemic Preparedness In The Workplace And The Americans With Disabilities Act

Pandemic Preparedness In The Workplace And The Americans With Disabilities Act

INTRODUCTORY INFORMATION

PURPOSE

This technical assistance document provides information about Titles I and V of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and pandemic planning in the workplace.(1) It identifies established ADA principles that are relevant to questions frequently asked about workplace pandemic planning such as:

      • How much information may an employer request from an employee who calls in sick, in order to protect the rest of its workforce when an influenza pandemic appears imminent?
      • When may an ADA-covered employer take the body temperature of employees during a pandemic?
      • Does the ADA allow employers to require employees to stay home if they have symptoms of the pandemic influenza virus?
      • When employees return to work, does the ADA allow employers to require doctors’ notes certifying their fitness for duty?

In one instance, to provide a complete answer, this document provides information about religious accommodation and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

BACKGROUND INFORMATION ABOUT PANDEMIC INFLUENZA

A “pandemic” is a global “epidemic.”(2) The world has seen four influenza pandemics in the last century. The deadly “Spanish Flu” of 1918 was followed by the milder “Asian” and “Hong Kong” flus of the 1950s and 1960s. While the SARS outbreak in 2003 was considered a pandemic “scare,”(3) the H1N1 outbreak in 2009 rose to the level of a pandemic.(4)

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the World Health Organization (WHO) are the definitive sources of information about influenza pandemics. The WHO classifies pandemic influenza into six phases(5) which describe how widely influenza is spreading around the world, but not the severity of the influenza symptoms. A WHO announcement that the world is in Pandemic Phase 6 (the highest phase) would indicate that there is sustained human-to-human transmission worldwide, and that the virus is no longer contained in a few geographic areas. It would not, however, automatically mean that the influenza symptoms are severe.

Pandemic planning and pandemic preparedness include everything from global and national public health strategies to an individual employer’s plan about how to continue operations. Comprehensive federal government guidance advises employers about best practices for pandemic preparation and response with respect to influenza, specifically the 2009 H1N1 virus.(6) This EEOC technical assistance document focuses on implementing these strategies in a manner that is consistent with the ADA.

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