The EEOC recently updated its Pandemic Preparedness in the Workplace and the Americans with Disabilities Act Guidance, first published in 2009, to specifically address the COVID-19 pandemic. The updated guidance is here.
Significantly, the EEOC confirms that the COVID-19 pandemic meets the “direct threat” standard for employee medical examinations and disability related inquiries. Accordingly, employers do not violate the ADA by requiring employees to undergo medical examinations, such as temperature checks, or asking employees disability-related questions, such as whether the employees suffer from underlying health conditions that may make COVID-19 more severe for them. As with all medical information, the fact that an employee has a fever or an underlying health condition is subject to the ADA’s confidentiality requirements.
The EEOC also provided guidance on hiring and screening employees during the COVID-19 pandemic; the Q&A is copied here for your convenience:
- If an employer is hiring, may it screen applicants for symptoms of COVID-19?
Yes. An employer may screen job applicants for symptoms of COVID-19 after making a conditional job offer, as long as it does so for all entering employees in the same type of job. An employer may screen job applicants for symptoms of COVID-19 after making a conditional job offer, as long as it does so for all entering employees in the same type of job. This ADA rule allowing post-offer (but not pre-offer) medical inquiries and exams applies to all applicants, whether or not the applicant has a disability.
- May an employer take an applicant’s temperature as part of a post-offer, pre-employment medical exam?
Yes. Any medical exams are permitted after an employer has made a conditional offer of employment. However, employers should be aware that some people with COVID-19 do not have a fever.
- May an employer delay the start date of an applicant who has COVID-19 or symptoms associated with it?
Yes. According to current CDC guidance, an individual who has COVID-19 or symptoms associated with it should not be in the workplace.
CDC has issued guidance applicable to all workplaces generally, but also has issued more specific guidance for particular types of workplaces (e.g. health care employees). Guidance from public health authorities is likely to change as the COVID-19 pandemic evolves. Therefore, employers should continue to follow the most current information on maintaining workplace safety. To repeat: the ADA does not interfere with employers following recommendations of the CDC or public health authorities, and employers should feel free to do so.
- May an employer withdraw a job offer when it needs the applicant to start immediately but the individual has COVID-19 or symptoms of it?
Based on current CDC guidance, this individual cannot safely enter the workplace, and therefore the employer may withdraw the job offer.