Archive | May, 2020

Managing The Emotional Impact of the Pandemic

27 May

May 26 The Bottom Line

Please Attend Our Zoom Broadcast
When: Friday, May 29
Time: 10:00 AM pst (US and Canada)
Speaker:
Josh Sweeney, CPC, Personal Development Coach/President
Kintsugi Mind Spa

 

Topic: Managing the Emotional Impact of the Pandemic

This 45-minute presentation by Josh Sweeney
will reveal how emotional health is impacted by the
COVID-19 pandemic and will define steps you can take to capitalize, thrive and grow in this unprecedented time

To Participate Join Zoom Meeting Now:
https://us02web.zoom.us/j/85868839285
Meeting ID: 858 6883 9285
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Find your local number:
https://us02web.zoom.us/u/kezaCHB1Lz

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Audit Your OSHA Injury Records … and much more.
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or visit: www.calworksafety.com

California’s Resilience Roadmap and Guidance to Employers for Stage Two Reopening

18 May

By Susan E. Groff, Cepideh Roufougar, Jonathan A. Siegel, Peter M. Waneis and Cecilie E. Read May 11, 2020

Appellate CourtCalifornia Governor Gavin Newsom has announced a plan to allow the limited reopening of some businesses beyond those in the category of essential critical infrastructure. This limited reopening is part of the “Resilience Roadmap” for California, the multi-phase plan to modify the statewide stay-at-home Order, originally issued on March 19, 2020, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

On May 4, 2020, the Governor issued an executive order directing Californians to continue to obey state public health directives. It also indicated the state was moving toward Stage Two, which would allow the reopening of “lower-risk businesses and spaces.”

The State Public Health Officer was directed to establish criteria and procedures to determine whether and how local jurisdictions may implement public health measures that depart from the statewide directives. This means that some counties and localities may be permitted to reopen businesses more quickly if certain benchmarks are met.

The following must be achieved by counties in order to move beyond the initial parts of Stage Two:

  1. No more than one new COVID-19 case per 10,000 people for 14 days.
  2. No COVID-19 deaths in the county for 14 days.
  3. Testing capacity to conduct 1.5 daily tests per 1,000 residents.
  4. At least 15 contact tracers per 100,000 residents.
  5. Ability to temporarily house at least 15 percent of county residents experiencing homelessness.
  6. Ability to accommodate at least a 35-percent surge in COVID-19 patients in local hospitals, in addition to usual care for non-COVID-19 patients.
  7. Skilled nursing facilities must have at least a two-week supply of personal protective equipment for workers. They also must have the ability to obtain more as supplies run low.

On May 7, the State Public Health Officer stated she would “progressively designate sectors, businesses, establishments, or activities that may reopen with certain modifications based on public health and safety needs.” She indicated she would be announcing these sectors and business on the state website roadmap site: https://covid19.ca.gov/roadmap/. In addition, she stated that to the extent such sectors are reopened, “Californians may leave their homes to work at, patronize, or otherwise engage with those businesses.”

Clothing stores, florists, bookstores, sporting goods stores, manufacturing businesses, and warehouse facilities were allowed to reopen on May 8, as the state moves into the first part of Stage Two. Retail establishments were limited to curbside pickup only.

In conjunction with allowing these reopenings, the state has issued guidance for businesses to follow if permitted to open. Before reopening, all facilities must:

  1. Perform a detailed risk assessment and implement a site-specific protection plan.
  2. Train employees on how to limit the spread of COVID-19, including how to screen themselves for symptoms and stay home if they have symptoms.
  3. Implement individual control measures and screenings.
  4. Implement disinfecting protocols.
  5. Implement physical distancing guidelines.

In addition to these general mandates, the state issued industry-specific guidance and checklists. Currently, the state has issued industry-specific guidance for the following sectors:

  1. Agriculture and livestock
  2. Auto dealerships
  3. Childcare
  4. Communication infrastructure
  5. Construction
  6. Delivery services
  7. Energy and utilities
  8. Food packing
  9. Hotels and lodging
  10. Life sciences
  11. Logistics and warehousing facilities
  12. Manufacturing
  13. Mining and logging
  14. Office workspaces
  15. Ports
  16. Public transit and intercity passenger rail
  17. Real estate transaction
  18. Retail

The Resilience Roadmap provides that these guidelines are to assist with ensuring a safer environment for workers and customers. Businesses may use effective alternative or innovative methods to build upon the guidelines.

Businesses looking to reopen should review any industry-specific guidance, prepare their reopening plans, and post any applicable checklist in the workplace in order to show customers and employees the business is actively working to help reduce and prevent the risk of spread of COVID-19.

As employers in Stage Two determine how to comply with recommendations and requirements under the state guidance, business owners should also review city and county shelter-in-place orders. Many county and city orders are currently more restrictive than the state’s amended order. Following issuance of the state’s guidance, many counties reiterated the requirements under their orders. In addition, many counties and cities have their own social distancing protocols for businesses that are open. Businesses seeking to reopen should ensure compliance with both state and local requirements.

As California continues to follow its roadmap, employers should monitor guidance and best practices to ensure safety for their employees.

Cal/OSHA Updates Its COVID-19 IIPP Guidance

By: Thomas B. Song Carothers DiSante & Freudenberger LLP © 2020

Cal New Update

Yesterday, Cal/OSHA greatly expanded its IIPP guidance pertaining to the hazard of COVID-19 in the workplace.  Employers who have not reviewed and updated their IIPPs to address COVID-19 should do so now.

Prior to yesterday, Cal/OSHA’s only guidance concerning IIPPs in relation to COVID-19 consisted of a general statement/reminder that employers are required to have an IIPP to protect employees from workplace hazards and that employers should determine if COVID-19 is a hazard in their workplace.  If so, employers must implement measures to prevent or reduce infection hazards and provide training on those measures.

Yesterday, Cal/OSHA updated its guidance on COVID-19 and IIPPs.  That guidance now states that, “For most California workplaces, adopting changes to their IIPP is mandatory since COVID-19 is widespread in the community.”  (Emphasis added.)

Cal/OSHA replaced their previous general guidance (consisting of two bullet points) with an extensive list of particular “infection prevention measures” and training topics.  Cal/OSHA specifically states to “include [those] infection prevention measures in a written IIPP when applicable to the workplace.”

However, since almost every listed infection prevention measure applies to most workplaces, does that mean that employers are now required physically to write down every measure in their IIPPs?  The most likely answer is “No.”  The required minimum elements of a written IIPP are already governed under Title 8, CCR 3203(a).  Therefore, without formal or emergency rule making (and appropriate notice and comment periods for the public), Cal/OSHA cannot, sua sponte add additional written requirements to the IIPP standard.

However, just because OSHA may not be able to cite you directly for failing to include all their applicable precautions in your written IIPP, that does not mean they cannot find other ways to find your IIPP ineffective.  In other words, it is assumed that should an employer’s IIPP be under review – for a COVID-related issue or otherwise – Cal/OSHA will use their listed infection prevention measures as a benchmark to gauge the effectiveness of an IIPP as it relates to COVID-19.

Therefore, while employers may not legally be required to list every single applicable Ca/OSHA precaution directly in their written IIPPs, it makes good sense to do so, or at a minimum, to be sure that you are actually implementing these precautions in the workplace.

Limits to Conducting Background Checks on Job Applicants

May 8 2020 – HRWatchdog

Background Checks

Several disclosure requirements and procedural steps are incumbent on both employers and the investigative consumer reporting agencies.

My company uses a background check company to conduct background checks on our applicants. Recently, I received a report that included a felony conviction from 1995. I thought there was a limit on how far back we could look for criminal convictions. Can I consider this conviction in making my hiring decision?

There are both state and federal laws that restrict how a background check can be conducted, and what type of information can be provided in a background check report.

The federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) and the California Investigative Consumer Reporting Agencies Act (ICRAA) both restrict what background check companies (referred to in the statutes as “investigative consumer reporting agencies”) and prospective employers can and must do with regards to information on individuals who are applying for jobs.

Disclosure Requirements

There are a number of disclosure requirements and procedural steps incumbent on both employers and the investigative consumer reporting agencies.

In addition, and most relevant to your question, the ICRAA limits the type of information the investigative consumer reporting agency can provide to the prospective employer.

With regards to records of arrest, indictment or conviction of a crime, the investigative consumer reporting agency may provide information that is no more than seven years from the date of “disposition, release, or parole” (California Civil Code Section 1786.18(a)(7)).

Timing

In your particular situation, although the conviction is from 1995, the investigative consumer reporting agency may be legally entitled to provide you the information if the applicant was released from prison within the last seven years.

You will need some additional information from the background check company to be certain that it was legally authorized to provide you with that information.

The statutes don’t specifically prohibit an employer from considering information that is beyond the limits of what an investigative consumer reporting agency is allowed to provide; however, before considering such information in making your hiring decision, we would suggest consulting your own legal counsel.

Attend Our Covid-19 Prevention Update

11 May

May The Bottom Line

ZOOM SESSION – MAY 14, 2020
Time: 10:00 a.m. PST  

Meeting ID: 839 6272 6013

Password: 192985

One tap mobile

Find your local number:

https://us02web.zoom.us/u/keG7mQWQSF 

Our Three Speakers & Topics:

  

Cindy Williams:
Session: 15 minutes 
DISCUSSION TOPIC:
Hazard Inspections in Various Work Environments, PPE
CalWorkSafety & HR is Now
Providing Virtual Inspections

Wendy Garcia: 
Session: 15 minutes 

DISCUSSION TOPIC:

How to develop a written COVID-19 Exposure Prevention, Preparedness, and Response Plan for your Company.
The purpose of this plan is to outline the steps that every employer and employee can take to reduce the risk of exposure to COVID-19.  Discussion of the elements of a well-designed plan and the importance of understanding and complying with local, State and national Health Orders. Discussion of the use of Employee Health Screening methods to monitor for COVID-19. The Consultants at CalWorkSafety & HR are available to assisting in writing plans to be specific to each unique business.
Judy Lindemann:
Session: 15 minutes 
DISCUSSION TOPIC:
The Power of Cough: Education and How We
Arrived at Six Feet Social Distancing; How Covid-19 Is Transmitted to Your Employees and what your Business Can Do to Protect Your Employees
Keeping Electronics Clean and
Types of Covid-19 Testing

 

CalWorkSafety & HR Consultants
We Train Your Staff … Visit Your Company …
Audit Your OSHA Injury Records … and much more.
Please Contact Us:  email: dondressler1@hotmail.com

Stage 2 of Reopening California Businesses Starts Friday

11 May

By Alix Martichoux

Stage TwoMonday that the next stage of reopening California’s economy will begin as early as Friday. Some businesses included in the state’s “Stage 2” of reopening will be allowed to resume operations starting Friday, including book stores, clothing stores, toy stores, florists and others.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) — Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Monday that the next stage of reopening California’s economy will begin Friday, May 8, 2020.

Some businesses included in the state’s “Stage 2” of reopening will be allowed to resume operations starting Friday, May 8, including bookstores, clothing stores, toy stores, florists and others. Associated manufacturers that support those retail supply chains will also be allowed to resume production.

Those businesses will be allowed to reopen for curbside pick-up, given they follow additional safety and hygiene protocols that will be released Thursday, Newsom said.

This step doesn’t include all businesses in the state’s “Stage 2,” Department of Public Health Director Dr. Sonia Angell clarified. At this time, office buildings, dine-in restaurants and shopping malls will not be allowed to reopen. (The state’s full four-stage plan to reopen is outlined below.)

Newsom emphasized that local officials still have the authority to accelerate or slow down reopening at the county level.

“We are not telling locals that believe it’s too soon, too fast to modify. We believe those local communities that have separate timelines should be afforded the capacity to advance those timelines,” he said, citing the Bay Area’s “stricter guidelines.”

“If they choose not to come into compliance with the state guidelines, they have that right,” the governor said.

More rural or remote counties with fewer COVID-19 cases will also be allowed to reopen businesses sooner, the governor said, as long as their decisions don’t risk the “the health of the entire state.”

The state is working to create guidelines that will allow restaurants and other hospitality businesses to open their doors again, as well.

“This is a very positive sign and it has happened for only one reason: the data says it can happen,” said Newsom. “But we recognize as we begin to modify … possible community spread will occur. If that is the case, and we don’t have the capacity to control that spread, to track that spread, to isolate individuals that may have been in contact with COVID-19, we will have to make modifications anew.”

The state plans to reopen those sectors in four stages, as described by Dr. Angell:

Stage 1: Everyone is either staying at home or a member of the essential workforce. This is the stage we are in now, and will stay in until a modification to the statewide stay-at-home order.

Stage 2: Reopening lower risk workplaces, including:

  • Non-essential manufacturing (toys, furniture, clothing, etc.)
  • Schools
  • Childcare facilities
  • Retail businesses for curbside pick-up
  • Offices where working remotely isn’t possible, but can be modified to make the environment safer for employees

Stage 3: Reopening higher risk workplaces, which require close proximity to other people, including:

  • Hair salons
  • Nail salons
  • Gyms
  • Movie theaters
  • Sporting events without live audiences
  • In-person religious services (churches and weddings)

Stage 4: Ending the stay-at-home order, which would allow for the reopening of:

  • Concert venues
  • Convention centers
  • Sporting events with live audiences

 

New Model COBRA Notices and Emergency Extensions to COBRA Deadlines Require Employers to Take Action

By Brian M. Johnston and Keith A. Dropkin on May 4, 2020 Jackson Lewis PC

The Department of Labor (DOL) and other federal regulators released updates and clarifications related to employee benefits, including updates to model COBRA notices and an extension of certain statutory deadlines intended to minimize the possibility of participants and beneficiaries losing benefits during the COVID-19 pandemic. This article highlights the DOL’s recent changes and updates relating to Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA).

Updated COBRA Notices

CobraOn May 1, 2020, the DOL released the first updates to its model COBRA Notices since 2014. The models are for the (i) general or initial notice (provided to employees and covered spouses within the first 90 days of coverage under the group health plan), and (ii) the election notice (provided to qualified beneficiaries within 44 days of the qualifying event resulting in a loss of coverage). The notices inform plan participants and other qualified beneficiaries of their rights to health continuation coverage upon a qualifying event. The release of these updated model COBRA notices is an important reminder for employers to ensure that plan participants receive timely and adequate information about their COBRA rights.

More Information about Medicare:  The primary update to the DOL model notice is a new Q&A section, “Can I enroll in Medicare instead of COBRA continuation coverage after my group health plan coverage ends?”, with similar content in a companion FAQ about COBRA and Medicare options.

Risk of Noncompliance

Employers do not have to use the model notices, however the DOL considers using the model notices, appropriately completed, to be good-faith compliance with COBRA’s notice content requirements. Our firm recently discussed the rapid expansion of class action litigation against employers that issued COBRA election notices that failed to follow the DOL model notice in detail. We strongly recommend that employers use the updated DOL COBRA notice forms (or some enhanced version of such notices).

If the updated model notices are not used, the employer should ensure that their COBRA notices include the most current information from the DOL. Because of the significant exposure for COBRA noncompliance, and because employers retain liability for COBRA compliance even if a third-party vendor is hired for COBRA administration, employers should have their COBRA notices regularly reviewed.

COBRA Deadline Extensions

On April 29, 2020, the DOL and Internal Revenue Service (IRS) issued a Joint Notice extending certain time frames affecting a participant’s right to continuation of group health plan coverage under COBRA after employment ends. Normally, a qualified beneficiary has 60 days from the date of receipt of the COBRA notice to elect COBRA, another 45 days after the date of the COBRA election to make the initial required COBRA premium payments, and COBRA coverage may be terminated for failure to pay premiums timely. A premium is considered timely if paid within a 30-day grace period.

The Joint Notice extends the above deadlines (and many other participant-related deadlines such as HIPAA special enrollments, claim appeals and external review filings) by requiring plans to disregard the period from March 1, 2020, until 60 days after the announced end of the National Emergency (known as the “Outbreak Period”).

Election Period Extension:  once a participant receives his or her timely COBRA election notification, the applicable COBRA deadlines are now extended until after the Outbreak Period ends. For COBRA election purposes, this means if a qualifying beneficiary receives the election notice on or after March 1, 2020, the 60-day initial COBRA election period does not begin until the end of the Outbreak Period. The participant then has another 45 days after that to make the required COBRA premium payments (that still apply back to the date on which previous employer coverage ended). The more time provided to qualified beneficiaries to elect and pay for coverage retroactive to the date coverage is lost, the greater the opportunity to game the system.

As an example, if the National Emergency period is proclaimed to end on May 31, 2020, the “Outbreak Period” will be deemed to end on July 30, 2020.  If an employee was provided a COBRA election notice on April 1, 2020, that person’s initial COBRA election deadline will be extended from the original deadline of May 31, 2020 (the 60th day from date of receipt of COBRA election notice) to a new COBRA election deadline of September 28, 2020 (i.e., 60 days from the end of the Outbreak Period).  That individual then has 45 more days to make the first COBRA premium payment for all coverage back to the original date of coverage loss.

Premium Payment Extension:  Likewise, for individuals already on COBRA, the deadlines to make required monthly premium contributions are extended until 30 days after the end of the Outbreak Period, and the guidance makes clear that an employer or health insurance carrier cannot terminate coverage or reject any claims for nonpayment of premium during this period. Such coverage termination can only occur if the individual fails to make all the required monthly premium contributions at the end of the Outbreak Period.

For example, an individual previously elected COBRA and has been paying monthly COBRA premiums since March 1, 2020. That individual does not pay applicable monthly COBRA premiums for April, May, June, or July. Under the extension guidance, the Plan must allow the individual until 30 days after the end of the Outbreak Period (or, August 29, using the dates from the prior example) to fully pay all prior months of COBRA premiums to maintain the COBRA coverage.  Health plans and insurance carriers are burdened with holding all claims submitted during the extension period to know whether coverage will or won’t be paid as required.

Employer COBRA Notice Period Extension:  The Joint Notice potentially also allows plans, plan administrators, and employers to have extra time to provide the COBRA election notice but the guidance is unclear about how that extension period applies. Until further guidance is issued to add clarity, we recommend that employers, other plan sponsors and administrators continue to send the COBRA election notices based on existing law and rely on the extension only if necessary.

Complications will likely result under this new guidance, and thus we strongly recommend working with COBRA administrators to ensure proper compliance is maintained throughout the Outbreak Period and beyond.

Participant Options for Coverage

Lastly, the DOL updated its ongoing FAQ guidance for participants to know and understand their health insurance and other benefit rights and coverage options before, during, and after the National Emergency period ends. While this guidance is directed to participants and beneficiaries, employers may also find it instructive to ensure they are providing proper coverage alternatives.

More Information

Employers can find a consolidation of almost all the DOL’s recent COVID-19 related guidance about benefits on its website.

 

Screening and Accommodation Issues Related to Returning to Work

By: Robin E. Largent Carothers DiSante & Freudenberger LLP © 2020

Screening For Work

Over the last few weeks, the EEOC has been updating its guidance for employers on handling various COVID-19 issues in the workplace, including on the topics of health screenings and when reasonable accommodation is, and is not, needed.  In some areas, the EEOC’s guidance continues to evolve, particularly on the issue of handling employees who have underlying medical conditions that make them high-risk for COVID-19 complications, but who do not have COVID-19 or COVID-19 symptoms.  This article summarizes the EEOC’s latest guidance on these important return-to-work issues.

Health Screenings

The EEOC has taken the position that temperature screening, symptom and exposure screening, and COVID-testing are all permissible tools for employers to consider when bringing employees back to work.  What if an employee refuses to participate?  According to a recorded webinar provided by the EEOC, the employee can be denied entry into the workplace if an employee refuses to answer screening questions and/or submit to temperature screening.  The EEOC has not directly answered whether an employer may refuse entry to an employee who refuses an actual COVID-19 test (which is more invasive than a health screening questionnaire or a temperature screening).

On the issue of symptom and exposure screening, the EEOC states that employers may ask all employees who will be physically entering the workplace if they have COVID-19, or symptoms associated with COVID-19, or ask if they have been tested for COVID-19. Symptoms associated with COVID-19 include, for example, cough, sore throat, fever, chills, and shortness of breath.  Additional symptoms may include new loss of smell or taste as well as gastrointestinal problems, such as nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting. Employers may not ask employees who are teleworking these questions.  Employers may also ask employees who will be physically entering the workplace whether they have been exposed to anyone with COVID-19 or its symptoms.  Employers should not limit the question to whether the employee has been exposed to any “family members” with COVID-19 or COVID-19 symptoms because GINA generally restricts inquiries into the medical conditions of an employee’s family.

Employers who will conduct screening or testing generally should apply the same requirements to all employees entering the workplace, rather than singling out individual employees for screening.  An exception may be if a specific employee is exhibiting symptoms, in which case an employer may inquire if the employee may have COVID-19 and/or if the employee has been tested.  Employees with symptoms may be sent home.

All medical information obtained from an employee and documented must be maintained in a confidential medical file for the employee.  Importantly, if an employer learns that an employee has Covid-19, the employer must protect the confidentiality of that information.  It is permissible to ask the employee which coworkers with whom he/she has been in physical contact and then to notify those workers that they may have been exposed, but the employer generally should not identify the worker with COVID-19 to others.

The EEOC has not yet addressed the permissibility of COVID-19 antibody testing, whether this may be required of all employees, and whether an employee can be denied entry into the workplace without a test.

Is COVID-19 a Disability?

The EEOC states that “it is not yet clear” whether COVID-19 is or could be a disability.  However, employers may prevent those with COVID-19 from entering the workplace because they would pose a direct threat to employee safety.

Employees Who Are 65 and Older

The EEOC states that employers may NOT exclude employees who are 65 and older from the workplace simply because they are in a higher risk group for serious complications from COVID-19.  The EEOC guidance states:  “The Age Discrimination in Employment Act prohibits employment discrimination against workers aged 40 and over. If the reason for an action is older age, over age 40, the law would not permit employers to bar older workers from the workplace, to require them to telework, or to place them on involuntary leave.”

Relatedly, the EEOC states that employers are not required to grant a request to telework by an employee who is 65 or older simply because the employee is in a high-risk group for COVID-19 complications.  (Of course, the employer may voluntarily permit telework in this circumstance.)

Please note that the EEOC’s guidance on this issue may conflict with some state or local shelter-at-home orders, which direct older employees to shelter at home.  Employers need to consider the applicability of these orders and not just ADA/Title VII considerations when making decisions concerning this issue.  If a shelter-at-home order is in place that states that older individuals (defined varyingly as 60+, 65+, and 70+ depending on jurisdiction) should shelter at home, employers should accommodate telework for these individuals while the order remains in effect.  If telework is not feasible for this employee, the employer needs to consider state and local guidance as well as EEOC guidance in determining whether to prohibit the employee from returning to work (e.g. where the employee wants to return to work even though in a high-risk age group).  This poses age discrimination risk under EEOC guidance.  Unfortunately, the California DFEH has not provided its own guidance on this issue for California employers.

Employees With Underlying Medical Conditions

What are employers’ obligations with respect to accommodating employees who have underlying medical conditions that place them at higher risk for serious COVID-19 complications according to CDC guidance?  This is an issue that the EEOC continues to grapple with, having published and then retracted guidance on this issue just yesterday, with a statement that the guidance is being reviewed and will be published at a later date.  For now, the EEOC states that individuals with underlying medical conditions rendering them high-risk may be entitled to reasonable accommodations under the ADA to prevent “direct threat to self.”  Such an employee should request accommodation and the employer has a duty to engage in an interactive process with the employee to determine reasonable accommodations.  The employer can request supporting medical documentation specifying that the employee has a disability that puts him/her at higher risk for severe complications from COVID-19 (remember that in CA, employers may not require specific identification/diagnosis of the underlying medical condition) and that, as such, an accommodation is needed.  Reasonable accommodations may include telework, provision of additional personal protective equipment or enhanced protective measures (for physical presence in the workplace) such as moving the location of an employee’s workspace to allow greater social distancing or protection, and/or elimination of marginal job duties.

Pregnant Employees

The EEOC guidance states that employers are not required to allow pregnant employees to telework or otherwise provide special accommodations for them due to COVID-19 because pregnancy itself is not a disability.  However, if an employee has a pregnancy-related disability for which the employee needs accommodation, the employer should engage in the interactive process and determine whether reasonable accommodation is appropriate.  Additionally, if the employer allows other employees to work from home as an unofficial accommodation, the employer should not treat pregnant employees differently because that may give rise to a pregnancy discrimination claim.

Employees Living With Someone Who Is in a High-Risk Category

The EEOC states that an employer is not required to provide reasonable accommodation to an employee who is living with someone who has a disability that makes the individual high risk for serious COVID-19 illness.  The ADA only requires reasonable accommodation of an employee’s own disability, not those of a family member.

Although an employer is not required to accommodate employees in this situation, employers may wish to voluntarily do so (e.g. provide an unpaid leave of absence or allow telework for a limited period of time) in order to avoid risk of claims/lawsuits and the associated cost of defense.

Personal Protective Equipment Upon Return to Work

If an employer requires employees to wear personal protective equipment in the workplace (e.g. masks, gloves) and an employee reports that he/she has a disability that prevents the employee from wearing the required protective equipment, the employer may have a duty to reasonably accommodate the employee by providing different protective equipment (e.g. non-latex gloves) or allowing an exception from the requirement, possibly with the imposition of different protective measures for that employee.

What About Undue Hardship?

Under established disability accommodation law, employers have a duty to reasonably accommodate employees with disabilities, unless doing so would be an undue hardship for the employer.  Undue hardship generally means “significant difficulty or expense.”  The undue hardship exception remains the law even in the COVID-19 era.  However, the EEOC acknowledges that accommodations that would not have posed an undue hardship pre-COVID may pose undue hardship now due to financial struggles faced by employers and other limitations on staffing.

In assessing whether a particular accommodation poses “significant difficulty,” an employer may consider whether current circumstances create “significant difficulty” in acquiring or providing certain accommodations, considering the facts of the particular job and workplace.  For example, it may be significantly more difficult in this pandemic to conduct a needs assessment or to acquire certain items, and delivery may be impacted, particularly for employees who may be teleworking.  Or, it may be significantly more difficult to provide employees with temporary assignments, to remove marginal functions, or to readily hire temporary workers for specialized positions.  If a particular accommodation poses an undue hardship, employers and employees should work together to determine if there may be an alternative that could be provided that does not pose such problems.

In assessing whether a particular accommodation poses “significant expense,” the sudden loss of some or all of an employer’s income stream because of this pandemic is a relevant consideration.  Also relevant is the amount of discretionary funds available at this time – when considering other expenses – and whether there is an expected date that current restrictions on an employer’s operations will be lifted (or new restrictions will be added or substituted).  These considerations do not mean that an employer can reject any accommodation that costs money; an employer must weigh the cost of an accommodation against its current budget while taking into account constraints created by this pandemic.  For example, even under current circumstances, there may be many no-cost or very low-cost accommodations.