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Medical Conditions Can Bar Workers From Job in Pandemic: EEOC

May 5, 2020, 5:11 PM

Companies can ask employees about known medical conditions and prevent them from working during the coronavirus pandemic if they reasonably believe those conditions will pose “a direct threat” to the workers’ health, the EEOC said in updated guidance.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission clarified that an employer may bar an employee with a known underlying medical condition from entering a workplace if it’s determined that contracting Covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, “places him at higher risk for severe illness.”

The federal civil rights agency has updated its guidance numerous times to answer questions posed by both businesses and workers about how to work safely during the pandemic while remaining in compliance with federal employment law. The Americans with Disabilities Act bans employers from asking about a worker’s disability, which can include medical conditions, unless the inquiry is “job-related and consistent with business necessity.”

“The direct threat individualized assessment is based on a reasonable medical judgment that relies on the most current medical knowledge and/or on the best available objective evidence, both about the disability and transmission of COVID-19,” the EEOC said in its guidance.

Employers should consider “the duration of the risk, nature and severity of the potential harm, likelihood the harm will occur, and imminence of the potential harm” when evaluating whether a medical condition poses a direct threat to the employee, the EEOC said.

Employers may be able to minimize the “direct threat” through a reasonable accommodation that allows a particular worker to stay on the job, the EEOC said. If a reasonable accommodation doesn’t sufficiently reduce an employee’s risk, then employers might be able to offer leave, telework, or a job reassignment.

To contact the reporter on this story: Paige Smith in Washington at psmith@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jay-Anne B. Casuga at jcasuga@bloomberglaw.com