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EEOC issues guidance re Pandemic Preparedness in the Workplace

The EEOC issued a guidance entitled Pandemic Preparedness in the Workplace and the Americans with Disabilities Act. While the guidance does not answer some of the more difficult questions posed in the current coronavirus crisis, it does provide guidance on at least some questions employers are facing and are likely to face, including the following:

  • Before an influenza pandemic occurs, may an ADA-covered employer ask an employee to disclose if he or she has a compromised immune system or chronic health condition that the CDC says could make him or her more susceptible to complications of influenza?

No. …

  • Are there ADA-compliant ways for employers to identify which employees are more likely to be unavailable for work in the event of a pandemic?

Yes. …

Below is a sample ADA-compliant survey that can be given to employees to anticipate absenteeism.

ADA-COMPLIANT PRE-PANDEMIC EMPLOYEE SURVEY

Directions: Answer “yes” to the whole question without specifying the factor that applies to you. Simply check “yes” or “no” at the bottom of the page.

In the event of a pandemic, would you be unable to come to work because of any one of the following reasons:

    • If schools or day-care centers were closed, you would need to care for a child;
    • If other services were unavailable, you would need to care for other dependents;
    • If public transport were sporadic or unavailable, you would be unable to travel to work; and/or;
    • If you or a member of your household fall into one of the categories identified by the CDC as being at high risk for serious complications from the pandemic influenza virus, you would be advised by public health authorities not to come to work (e.g., pregnant women; persons with compromised immune systems due to cancer, HIV, history of organ transplant or other medical conditions; persons less than 65 years of age with underlying chronic conditions; or persons over 65).

Answer: YES______ , NO_______

  • May an ADA-covered employer send employees home if they display influenza-like symptoms during a pandemic?

Yes. …

  • During a pandemic, how much information may an ADA-covered employer request from employees who report feeling ill at work or who call in sick?

ADA-covered employers may ask such employees if they are experiencing influenza-like symptoms, such as fever or chills and a cough or sore throat. Employers must maintain all information about employee illness as a confidential medical record in compliance with the ADA. …

  • When an employee returns from travel during a pandemic, must an employer wait until the employee develops influenza symptoms to ask questions about exposure to pandemic influenza during the trip?

No. …

  • During a pandemic, may an ADA-covered employer ask employees who do not have influenza symptoms to disclose whether they have a medical condition that the CDC says could make them especially vulnerable to influenza complications?

No. …

Employers should take the time to review the EEOC’s guidance and familiarize themselves with the nuances of the EEOC’s carefully worded answers. In the foregoing summaries, for brevity’s sake, only the EEOC’s conclusions (like “No”) are cited, but the EEOC’s answers, as indicated by the ellipses (“…”) proceed to qualify its answers.

Expert testimony not required to prove a “disability,” some of the times

The Tenth Circuit held that a plaintiff doesn’t always need to have a medical expert to confirm the plaintiff’s medical condition rises to the level of a “disability” protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

When is a medical expert required? “(W)]here injuries complained of are of such character as to require skilled and professional persons to determine the cause and extent thereof,” and that question needs to be asked by each court in each individual case. This seemingly circular standard — expert medical testimony is required when it is necessary to understand the medical condition — was somewhat clarified by the Tenth Circuit when the Court contrasted such cases, at least, against those where the disability is “obvious.”

In short, the Tenth Circuit’s decision makes clear that expert medical testimony is likely always helpful to a plaintiff, might sometimes be required but isn’t always, and no plaintiff, or defendant, will know until the trial court, after undertaking a case-by-case analysis decides in any given case.

Source: Tesone v. Empire Marketing Strategies, case no. 19-1026 (10th Cir. 11/8/19).

Tenth Circuit reaffirms Adverse Employment Action element of discrimination claims, including failure-to-accommodate claims under the ADA

The Tenth Circuit reaffirmed that plaintiffs must prove they suffered an Adverse Employment Action in all discrimination claims, including claims alleging a failure to accommodate under the ADA.

(A)n adverse employment action is an element of a failure-to-accommodate claim 
To establish an Adverse Employment Action, the plaintiff must prove more than that she suffered a “a mere inconvenience or an alteration of job responsibilities.” Rather, the Tenth Circuit held she must prove that she suffered harm to “a term, condition, or privilege of employment.”