What You Need to Know About the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act, and COVID-19

On March 11th, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the Coronavirus (COVID-19) to be an international pandemic. As the Coronavirus continues to spread globally, the everyday workplace has changed drastically; employers are scrambling to adjust to fully remote workforces, and states and the national government are passing new policies left and right.

But what does the the Coronavirus mean for workplace anti-discrimination laws? 

To help you stay compliant, here is what you need to know about the Coronavirus’ impact on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act:

Guidelines From the CDC and EEOC

To prevent employers from making determinations of the Coronavirus risk based on employees’ race or country of origin, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released the Interim Guidance for Business and Employers to Plan and Respond to COVID-19

These guidelines were also published to ensure that employers are remaining confidential with employees who have confirmed virus infections. During this pandemic, the ADA and Rehabilitation Act still apply but do not prevent employers from following the CDC’s guidelines or any suggestions made by state or local public health authorities regarding the Coronavirus. 

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commision (EEOC) released the Pandemic Preparedness in the Workplace and the Americans With Disabilities Act to help employers strategically navigate the impact of the Coronavirus in the workplace. This resource answers FAQs about the workplace during this pandemic.

As the pandemic continues, it’s likely that public health authorities will keep changing their guidance for workplace safety. Therefore, it’s critical for both employers and employees to stay up to date with these current resources.


Regulations Concerning Employees

In order to protect the rest of their workforces during this pandemic, ADA-covered employers are allowed to ask employees who call in sick if they are experiencing any Coronavirus symptoms—including cough, fever, shortness of breath, chills, or sore throat. 

To stay compliant with the ADA’s regulations, employers are required to maintain all information about employee illness as a confidential record.

Although measuring an employees’ body temperature is a medical examination, ADA-covered employers are now allowed to take any employees’ body temperature. This is only legal when a virus has officially been declared a pandemic. 

With that said, it’s important to note that some people infected by the Coronavirus do not have fevers.

If an employee has any of these symptoms, the CDC stated that employers should send that employee home and require them to stay home. Since the Coronavirus is not disability-related, the ADA is allowing employers to require doctors’ notes that authorize employees’ abilities to return to work. However, since doctors and other healthcare professionals may be too busy to write such notes during this pandemic outbreak, finding new approaches to this may be necessary—such as asking local clinics to provide a form or e-mail to confirm that an employee doesn’t have the virus.


Regulations Concerning Applicants 

After making a conditional job offer, an employer can screen an applicant for symptoms of the Coronavirus, as long as the employer screens every new hire in the same type of position. Employers can also take a candidate’s temperature after making a conditional offer as part of the pre-employment medical exam. 


According to the CDC, any person who has the Coronavirus or symptoms of the virus should not be in the workplace. Therefore, an employer can delay a new hire’s start date if that person is showing Coronavirus symptoms. In the case where an employer needs a new hire to start working immediately but the individual has any of these symptoms, the employer can withdraw the job offer.




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