Measles in the Workplace: Prevention and Privacy
Howard Mavity was quoted in Corporate Counsel on February 10, 2015. The article “Measles in the Workplace: Prevention and Privacy” discussed how Measles, a disease previously thought to have been eradicated from the U.S., has been making a comeback.
Howard told CorpCounsel.com that some clients have been asking whether an employer who learns that one of its employees or customers has contracted measles should identify that person to other workers. For the most part, Howard said, state laws and public health guidance do not require employers to reveal this information (although health care organizations may be an exception). Employers who want to identify a worker who has been infected should think about the possible side effects, such as a potential invasion of privacy claim or interpersonal problems in the workplace, before going ahead.
Howard also pointed out that with measles, knowing who brought it into the workplace isn’t necessarily that important anyway. “The answer is: it really doesn’t matter because it’s such a hardy virus,” he said. Once the virus has been introduced, it can live for up to two hours on a surface, according to the CDC, and once someone has it, 90 percent of those close by who aren’t immunized will become infected. So if measles enters your workplace, the damage has already been done, and it may be better to deal with the infected person one-on-one rather than take the privacy risk of revealing his or her identity to colleagues or customers.
Although employers may feel limited in what they can ask and say about the health of specific employees, Howard believes that in the case of measles, they can and should still take a proactive stance by preemptively educating the workforce about the disease and its prevention, including vaccination. “I just don’t see a lot of legal threat in an employer aggressively raising this,” said Howard, who has blogged about his position on the issue. Employers can send their employees links to CDC updates, for example, so they can remain aware of the progress of the virus and the preventative measures they can take.
It’s not just about an educational campaign during an outbreak though. Howard noted that other diseases have emerged fairly frequently in the U.S., most recently Ebola, and before that SARS, swine flu and others have all made headlines. “The legal issues are often pretty similar in how to handle each of them, and yet somehow we keep addressing them on an emergency-by-emergency basis, but we don’t seem to be educating managers and HR in advance,” Howard said.
Companies looking to create a reusable manager curriculum could include a primer on the Americans with Disabilities Act, as well as how to handle a sick employee without causing panic or making the employee in question feel targeted and threatened. “Don’t wig out,” Howard recommended. “Don’t start talking about it, don’t start telling coworkers [to] contact HR and get advice.”
To read the full article, please visit Corporate Counsel.
This article was picked up by The National Law Journal on February 16, 2015.