Disability Laws Should Not Stop Employers From Following Coronavirus Guidance, EEOC Says

Author: Robert S. Teachout, XpertHR Legal Editor

March 18, 2020

The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act do not interfere with or prevent employers from following the guidelines and recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) or of state and local public health authorities about what steps employers should take regarding the coronavirus (COVID-19), the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) says in a new document.

The two federal laws prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability in the private and public sectors. The ADA also requires that certain medical information be treated as a confidential medical record that must be kept separate from the employee's personnel file.

However, the agency also advised employers to continue to follow the most current information on maintaining workplace safety, reminding employers that "guidance from public health authorities is likely to change as the COVID-19 pandemic evolves."

The EEOC document provides some specific examples of how ADA requirements intersect with the CDC's guidance during the COVID-19 pandemic, such as:

  • How much information may an employer request from an employee who calls in sick during the COVID-19 pandemic?
  • When may an ADA-covered employer take the body temperature of employees during the COVID-19 pandemic?
  • Does the ADA allow employers to require doctors' notes certifying employees' fitness for duty when they return to work?
  • May employers screen applicants for symptoms of COVID-19?

In addition, the EEOC notes that its guidance on workplace pandemic preparedness written during the prior H1N1 outbreak is still relevant today and can help employers implement strategies to navigate the impact of COVID-19 in the workplace.