EEOC Answers 10 New Questions About Coronavirus

Author: Michael Cardman, XpertHR Legal Editor

April 21, 2020

Employers with questions about how to deal with the coronavirus without violating discrimination laws may find answers in new guidance from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

The EEOC has updated the coronavirus technical assistance page that it first published last month with 10 new FAQs covering reasonable accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act, harassment and return to work, including the following:

  • If there is some urgency to providing [a reasonable accommodation], or the employer has limited time available to discuss the request during the pandemic, may an employer provide a temporary accommodation? Yes, said the EEOC. In fact, the EEOC said an employer may also place an end date on the accommodation - either a specific date such as May 30, or when the employee returns to the workplace once state and local governments lift stay-at-home orders. Employers also may provide a requested accommodation on an interim or trial basis, with an end date, while awaiting receipt of medical documentation.
  • Are the circumstances of the pandemic relevant to whether a requested accommodation can be denied because it poses an undue hardship? Again, yes, said the EEOC. In some cases, an accommodation that would not have posed an undue hardship before the coronavirus pandemic may pose one now. For example, it may be significantly more difficult to provide employees with temporary assignments, to remove marginal functions or to hire temporary workers for specialized positions.
  • Are there steps an employer should take to address possible harassment and discrimination against coworkers when it re-opens the workplace? Here, the EEOC said an employer may remind employees that it is against the law to harass or otherwise discriminate against coworkers based on race, national origin and other protected classes. The EEOC said employers should train supervisors to prevent harassment or other discrimination. An employer may also make clear that it will immediately review any allegations of harassment or discrimination and take appropriate action.
  • An employer requires returning workers to wear personal protective gear and engage in infection control practices. Some employees ask for accommodations due to a need for modified protective gear. Must an employer grant these requests? An employer may require employees to wear protective gear (for example, masks and gloves) and observe infection control practices (for example, regular hand washing and social distancing protocols), the EEOC said. However, where an employee with a disability needs a related reasonable accommodation under the ADA (e.g., non-latex gloves, modified face masks for interpreters or others who communicate with an employee who uses lip reading, or gowns designed for individuals who use wheelchairs), or a religious accommodation under Title VII (such as modified equipment due to religious garb), the employer should discuss the request and provide the modification or an alternative if feasible and not an undue hardship on the operation of the employer's business under the ADA or Title VII.