What Can I Ask of My Employees Who I Think Might Be Infected With the Coronavirus?

May 8, 2020
The Law Firm of J.W. Stafford

Employee having temperature taken upon entry to job site.

The coronavirus doesn’t show any signs of going away anytime soon. But there are signs that states and localities may be taking the first steps in reopening. There are also predictions about a “second wave” of coronavirus infections.

The bottom line is that for the foreseeable future, you will probably have concerns about keeping your workplace protected from the coronavirus. But how far can you go in keeping your Maryland business coronavirus free? And what can you ask or demand of your employees without violating their rights?

These are very common questions, but unfortunately, they usually do not have a quick and easy answer that applies to all businesses or in all situations. The following blog post aims to provide a general overview of what you can ask or expect of your Maryland employees to reduce the spread of the coronavirus.

If you have any follow up questions, or want a more definitive answer that specifically applies to your situation, you’ll need to speak with a knowledgeable Maryland employment defense lawyer. A good place to start is contacting the Law Firm of J.W. Stafford.

Can I Ask My Employees to Wear Protective Equipment, Such as Masks?

Yes, if the conditions warrant such protections. Under the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) coronavirus guidance released a few months ago, for the most part, only workers with a very high exposure risk or a high exposure risk will require the use of personal protective equipment (PPE), such as masks. However, those in medium risk work environments may sometimes need PPE.

Additionally, as a general rule, you have the discretion to decide if a workplace hazard, such as the coronavirus, requires employees to use PPE. But if you decide to require the use of PPE, absent you showing undue hardship, you may need to provide special PPE as a reasonable accommodation to those with disabilities recognized by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). For example, if you want your employees to wear gloves, you may need to provide latex-free gloves to those with a latex allergy.

Can I Demand an Employee Leave the Workplace if I Believe They Have the Coronavirus?

Assuming you have a reasonable basis for this belief, then yes, you may order an employee to leave the workplace. To make it more likely your employee will comply with this order, try to be as diplomatic and understanding as possible. For instance, explain how you’re just trying to keep other workers safe and if available, remind the employee that they can use their accrued paid leave while they stay home.

If they still refuse to leave, you may be able to treat them as a trespasser on private property or implement employee discipline. Just remember that these options should be used only when you have absolutely no other choice.

Can I Ask My Employees If They Are Experiencing Coronavirus Symptoms?

Yes, but you should only ask about coronavirus symptoms that are recognized by public health authorities or other sources of respected medical information. As of the writing of this blog post, the CDC lists the following potential coronavirus symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Coughing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Trouble breathing
  • Sore throat
  • Chills
  • Muscle pain
  • Headache
  • Sudden loss of taste or smell

When gathering this information from your employees, you must protect it as confidential medical information.

Can I Check an Employee’s Temperature to Determine if They Have a Coronavirus Infection?

Yes, but keep in mind that not all of those infected with the coronavirus will have a fever.

Can I Use Certain Employee Traits or Characteristics To Identify Employees Who Are at High Risk of Having a Coronavirus Infection?

It depends on what traits or characteristics you are using. If you have a policy where all employees of Chinese ethnicity must work from home, that’s illegal discrimination. But things will be different if you have a policy where anyone who’s traveled to China in the past two weeks must work from home. This policy will probably be legal, as long as it doesn’t disproportionately affect a certain group of employees who are members of a protected class.

Looking for Additional Coronavirus Guidance About What You Can Ask of Your Maryland Employees? Speak to a Skilled Maryland Employment Defense Lawyer.

If you have further questions or concerns, consider contacting a Maryland employment defense lawyer, such as one from the Law Firm of J.W. Stafford. We know that every situation is unique and after hearing about what you’re dealing with, we’ll be able to provide the most tailored advice that can help your business survive. Call (410) 514-6099 today.