Since March of this year, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has released guidance on a near-monthly basis addressing various FAQs concerning COVID-19 issues. The guidance has focused on disability-related inquiries, confidentiality, hiring, and reasonable accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), as well as issues under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). In its latest FAQ update posted yesterday, the EEOC covers some more practical questions employers have on several COVID-19 issues, such as testing, telecommuting, and sharing employee medical information.

COVID-19 Testing

As COVID-19 testing capabilities and resources have expanded, many employers across the country have been working on establishing testing protocols. Some still have concerns, however, about whether they are permitted to test, particularly considering the general ADA requirement that any mandatory medical test of employees be “job related and consistent with business necessity.”

The EEOC has already confirmed that employers may opt to administer COVID-19 testing to employees before initially permitting them to enter the workplace.  In the updated FAQs, the EEOC further clarified that periodic testing to determine if the employees  presence in the workplace is permissible to determine if the employee poses a direct threat to others. In its updated FAQs, the EEOC also sought to address updates to CDC guidance. Specifically, the EEOC made clear that employers administering COVID-19 viral testing consistent with current CDC guidance will meet the ADA’s “business necessity” standard, and that following recommendations by the CDC or other public health authorities regarding whether, when, and for whom testing or other screening is appropriate. The EEOC acknowledged that the CDC and FDA may revise their recommendations based on new information, and reminded employers to stay up to date.

More on What Employers Can Ask Employees, and If Employees Refuse to Answer

For several months, employers have been building COVID-19 screening programs – taking employee temperatures and asking questions about COVID-19 symptoms and travel, among other things – before permitting employees to enter the employer’s facilities. Some employers have continued to wonder whether they are permitted under the ADA to ask employees whether they have had a COVID-19 test. The EEOC confirmed in the updated FAQs that employers may ask if employees have been tested for COVID-19. Presumably, this also means that employers may ask if the employee’s test was positive or negative, but this is not clear in the updated EEOC FAQs.

Because the permissibility of certain COVID-related requests are based on the existence of a direct threat, asking employees about COVID-19 testing does not extend to employees who are teleworking and not physically interacting with coworkers or others (for example, customers). Asking employees about COVID-19 testing also does not extend to whether the employee’s family members have COVID-19 or symptoms associated with COVID-19. This is because the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) generally prohibits employers from asking employees medical questions about family members. But, the EEOC clarified employers may ask employees whether they have had contact with anyone diagnosed with COVID-19 or who may have symptoms associated with the disease.

The EEOC also further addressed whether employers may focus screening efforts on a single employee – e.g., asking only one employee COVID-19 screening questions. In this case, the employer must have a reasonable belief based on objective evidence that this person might have the disease, such as a display of COVID-19 symptoms. However, employees working regularly or occasionally onsite and who report feeling ill or who call in sick may be asked questions about their symptoms as part of workplace screening for COVID-19, according to the EEOC.

During the summer, several states began to implement mandatory and recommended quarantines for persons arriving in their states from other states with high levels of community spread. The EEOC confirmed that employers do not have to wait until employees experienced COVID-19 symptoms before they may ask employees where they traveled as such questions would not be disability-related inquiries.

As several employers have learned, not all employees cooperate with employer-administered screening programs. When they object, employers should consider their options carefully and whether an accommodation may be necessary. The EEOC acknowledges that the ADA allows employers to bar employees from physical presence in the workplace if they refuse to have their temperature taken or refuse to confirm whether they have COVID-19, symptoms associated with COVID-19, or have been tested for COVID-19. Some employers desire to make compliance with screening programs a condition of employment, subjecting employees to termination from employment if they fail to comply. The EEOC did not discuss that option, however, the agency reminded employers they can gain cooperation by asking employees the reasons for their refusal. They also can offer information and/or reassurance that they are taking steps to ensure workplace safety, that the steps are consistent with health screening recommendations from CDC, and that the employer is careful about maintaining confidentiality.

Managers Sharing Information About Employees with COVID

It is not uncommon for managers to learn about the medical condition of employees they supervise. Because the ADA requires all employee medical information to be maintained confidentially, managers who discover an employee has COVID-19 may be unsure about what they may and/or should do with that information. The EEOC FAQS make clear that managers may report this information to appropriate persons in the organization in order to then comply with public health authority guidance, such as contact tracing. Employers should consider directing managers on where to report this information in order to minimize who receives it, and what to report. However, the EEOC clarified that it would not violate the ADA if a worker reported to her manager the COVID-19 status of a coworker in the same workplace.

Recognizing that coworkers in small workplaces might be able to identify which worker(s) triggered contact tracing efforts, the EEOC reminds employers they still may not confirm or reveal the employee’s identity. For employees that have a need to know this information about other employees, they should be specifically instructed to maintain the confidentiality.

Telework

Many employees continue to telework, particularly in occupations where it is feasible to do so. Being away from the office, however, does not eliminate these COVID-19 issues. For example, managers still have to maintain the confidentiality of employee medical information when they are working from home. This includes, where necessary, taking steps to limit access to the information until the manager can return to the office to store the information according to normal protocols. It also includes not disclosing the reason an employee may be teleworking or on leave if the reason is COVID-19.

 

While many questions remain, these updated FAQs provide some helpful guidance for employers. Of course, certain situations can present additional issues for employers to consider. And, state and local law also may modify the employer’s analysis for those jurisdictions. Employers need to keep up to date and should consult experienced counsel when navigating these issues.

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Photo of Joseph J. Lazzarotti Joseph J. Lazzarotti

Joseph J. Lazzarotti is a Principal in the Morristown, New Jersey, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He founded and currently leads the firm’s Privacy, e-Communication and Data Security Practice, edits the firm’s Privacy Blog, and is a Certified Information Privacy Professional (CIPP) with…

Joseph J. Lazzarotti is a Principal in the Morristown, New Jersey, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He founded and currently leads the firm’s Privacy, e-Communication and Data Security Practice, edits the firm’s Privacy Blog, and is a Certified Information Privacy Professional (CIPP) with the International Association of Privacy Professionals. Trained as an employee benefits lawyer, focused on compliance, Mr. Lazzarotti also is a member of the firm’s Employee Benefits Practice Group.

In short, his practice focuses on the matrix of laws governing the privacy, security, and management of data, as well as the impact and regulation of social media. He also counsels companies on compliance, fiduciary, taxation, and administrative matters with respect to employee benefit plans.

Privacy and cybersecurity experience – Mr. Lazzarotti counsels multinational, national and regional companies in all industries on the broad array of laws, regulations, best practices, and preventive safeguards. The following are examples of areas of focus in his practice:

  • Advising health care providers, business associates, and group health plan sponsors concerning HIPAA/HITECH compliance, including risk assessments, policies and procedures, incident response plan development, vendor assessment and management programs, and training.
  • Coached hundreds of companies through the investigation, remediation, notification, and overall response to data breaches of all kinds – PHI, PII, payment card, etc.
  • Helping organizations address questions about the application, implementation, and overall compliance with European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and, in particular, its implications in the U.S., together with preparing for the California Consumer Privacy Act.
  • Working with organizations to develop and implement video, audio, and data-driven monitoring and surveillance programs. For instance, in the transportation and related industries, Joe has worked with numerous clients on fleet management programs involving the use of telematics, dash-cams, event data recorders (EDR), and related technologies. He also has advised many clients in the use of biometrics including with regard to consent, data security, and retention issues under BIPA and other laws.
  • Assisting clients with growing state data security mandates to safeguard personal information, including steering clients through detailed risk assessments and converting those assessments into practical “best practice” risk management solutions, including written information security programs (WISPs). Related work includes compliance advice concerning FTC Act, Regulation S-P, GLBA, and New York Reg. 500.
  • Advising clients about best practices for electronic communications, including in social media, as well as when communicating under a “bring your own device” (BYOD) or “company owned personally enabled device” (COPE) environment.
  • Conducting various levels of privacy and data security training for executives and employees
  • Supports organizations through mergers, acquisitions, and reorganizations with regard to the handling of employee and customer data, and the safeguarding of that data during the transaction.
  • Representing organizations in matters involving inquiries into privacy and data security compliance before federal and state agencies including the HHS Office of Civil Rights, Federal Trade Commission, and various state Attorneys General.

Benefits counseling experience – Mr. Lazzarotti’s work in the benefits counseling area covers many areas of employee benefits law. Below are some examples of that work:

  • As part of the Firm’s Health Care Reform Team, he advises employers and plan sponsors regarding the establishment, administration and operation of fully insured and self-funded health and welfare plans to comply with ERISA, IRC, ACA/PPACA, HIPAA, COBRA, ADA, GINA, and other related laws.
  • Guiding clients through the selection of plan service providers, along with negotiating service agreements with vendors to address plan compliance and operations, while leveraging data security experience to ensure plan data is safeguarded.
  • Counsels plan sponsors on day-to-day compliance and administrative issues affecting plans.
  • Assists in the design and drafting of benefit plan documents, including severance and fringe benefit plans.
  • Advises plan sponsors concerning employee benefit plan operation, administration and correcting errors in operation.

Mr. Lazzarotti speaks and writes regularly on current employee benefits and data privacy and cybersecurity topics and his work has been published in leading business and legal journals and media outlets, such as The Washington Post, Inside Counsel, Bloomberg, The National Law Journal, Financial Times, Business Insurance, HR Magazine and NPR, as well as the ABA Journal, The American Lawyer, Law360, Bender’s Labor and Employment Bulletin, the Australian Privacy Law Bulletin and the Privacy, and Data Security Law Journal.

Mr. Lazzarotti served as a judicial law clerk for the Honorable Laura Denvir Stith on the Missouri Court of Appeals.

Photo of Jason C. Gavejian Jason C. Gavejian

Jason C. Gavejian is a Principal in the Morristown, New Jersey, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. and a Certified Information Privacy Professional (CIPP/US) with the International Association of Privacy Professionals.

As a Certified Information Privacy Professional (CIPP/US), Mr. Gavejian focuses on the matrix…

Jason C. Gavejian is a Principal in the Morristown, New Jersey, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. and a Certified Information Privacy Professional (CIPP/US) with the International Association of Privacy Professionals.

As a Certified Information Privacy Professional (CIPP/US), Mr. Gavejian focuses on the matrix of laws governing privacy, security, and management of data. Mr. Gavejian is Co-Editor of, and a regular contributor to, the firm’s Workplace Privacy, Data Management & Security Report blog.

Mr. Gavejian’s work in the area of privacy and data security includes counseling international, national, and regional companies on the vast array of privacy and security mandates, preventive measures, policies, procedures, and best practices. This includes, but is not limited to, the privacy and security requirements under state, federal, and international law (e.g., HIPAA/HITECH, GDPR, California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), FTC Act, ECPA, SCA, GLBA etc.). Mr. Gavejian helps companies in all industries to assess information risk and security as part of the development and implementation of comprehensive data security safeguards including written information security programs (WISP). Additionally, Mr. Gavejian assists companies in analyzing issues related to: electronic communications, social media, electronic signatures (ESIGN/UETA), monitoring and recording (GPS, video, audio, etc.), biometrics, and bring your own device (BYOD) and company owned personally enabled device (COPE) programs, including policies and procedures to address same. He regularly advises clients on compliance issues under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) and has represented clients in suits, including class actions, brought in various jurisdictions throughout the country under the TCPA.

Mr. Gavejian represents companies with respect to inquiries from the HHS/OCR, state attorneys general, and other agencies alleging wrongful disclosure of personal/protected information. Mr. Gavejian negotiates vendor agreements and other data privacy and security agreements, including business associate agreements. His work in the area of privacy and data security includes counseling and coaching clients through the process of investigating and responding to breaches of the personally identifiable information (PII) or protected health information (PHI) they maintain about consumers, customers, employees, patients, and others, while also assisting clients in implementing policies, practices, and procedures to prevent future data incidents.

Mr. Gavejian represents management exclusively in all aspects of employment litigation, including restrictive covenants, class-actions, harassment, retaliation, discrimination, and wage and hour claims in both federal and state courts. Mr. Gavejian regularly appears before administrative agencies, including the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the Office for Civil Rights (OCR), the New Jersey Division of Civil Rights, and the New Jersey Department of Labor. Mr. Gavejian’s practice also focuses on advising/counseling employers regarding daily workplace issues.

Mr. Gavejian’s litigation experience, coupled with his privacy practice, provides him with a unique view of many workplace issues and the impact privacy, data security, and social media may play in actual or threatened lawsuits.

Mr. Gavejian regularly provides training to both executives and employees and regularly speaks on current privacy, data security, monitoring, recording, BYOD/COPE, biometrics (BIPA), social media, TCPA, and information management issues. His views on these topics have been discussed in multiple publications, including the Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, San Francisco Chronicle (SFGATE), National Law Review, Bloomberg BNA, Inc.com, @Law Magazine, Risk and Insurance Magazine, LXBN TV, Business Insurance Magazine, and HR.BLR.com.

Mr. Gavejian is the Co-Chair of Jackson Lewis’ Hispanic Attorney Resource Group, a group committed to increasing the firm’s visibility among Hispanic-American and other minority attorneys, as well as mentoring the firm’s attorneys to assist in their training and development. Mr. Gavejian also previously served on the National Leadership Committee of the Hispanic National Bar Association (HNBA) and regularly volunteers his time for pro bono matters.

Prior to joining Jackson Lewis, Mr. Gavejian served as a judicial law clerk for the Honorable Richard J. Donohue on the Superior Court of New Jersey, Bergen County.