Zika in the Workplace: Best Practices for Not Getting Bit with Liability
There are things we all need to know about Zika: 1) it is spread mostly by an infected Aedes species mosquito; 2) it can be passed from a pregnant woman to her fetus; 3) there is no vaccine or medicine for Zika; and 4) confirmed cases of the Zika virus have been identified in the United States. While there are a whole host of things we still need to learn about the virus, there are a number of things you as an employer need to be mindful of when it comes to this virus:
1) OSHA Responsibilities:
OSHA has published "Interim Guidance for Protecting Workers from Occupational Exposure to Zika Virus." The publication includes information on the virus itself and recommendations as to steps employers can take to protect employees from contracting the virus. Included in these recommendations are:
- Provision of employees with insect repellant and encouragement of employees to use the products according to guidelines;
- Restricting work attire so that employees are required to wear clothing that covers hands, arms, legs, and other exposed skin;
- Provision of hats with mosquito netting to protect the face and neck; and
- Removal of any sources of standing water in a work environment whenever possible to reduce/eliminate mosquito breeding areas.
2) Title VII Responsibilities:
Do you have employees whose jobs require international travel? Are any of them pregnant? Remember that you as an employer do not get to choose whether your pregnant employees travel to an infected area; it is your employee's decision whether she chooses to take the trip. Any failure to offer the opportunity could be seen as discriminatory as a result of her gender.
Considering making the trip required? With your pregnant employees, in many cases that may be seen as a failure to provide a reasonable accommodation. Or, if you have employees who are currently infected with the virus, there is a chance that the Zika infection could be a disability requiring a reasonable accommodation.
If you have further questions regarding best practices as they apply to responding to the Zika virus, contact a member of the Verrill Dana Labor and Employment Practice Group to further discuss.