News stories continue to circulate about a disease once thought to have been eradicated in this country – measles. In the midst of all of the fears and concerns gripping people, employers need to develop a well-thought-out plan to deal with it.
Bradford Hammock, an attorney with the law firm of Littler Mendelson PC, as well as other attorneys like him, all offer similar solid advice.
The first thing to do is contact your local public health department to seek guidance. It is a vital source of information regarding how the disease is transmitted and what steps should be taken to protect an employee diagnosed with measles as well as to protect other employees who may have been exposed.
One thing to keep in mind is that employee privacy rights under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) require employers, medical professionals and health service companies to protect the identity of a patient and their health status, Hammock warns.
“If you learn that an employee has been diagnosed with measles, you may be tempted to alert the rest of your staff immediately. Don’t!” he says. “Not only can this cause an unnecessary panic, but you must also be careful about employee privacy concerns and the information you share.”
Hammock adds that it may be possible that measles can be defined as a “disability” under the federal
Americans with Disabilities Act and state and local laws similar to the ADA, especially in those jurisdictions using disability definitions that are even broader than those in the ADA.
Your local public health department also may be able to provide guidance about the need for, and scope and content of any kind of notification that an employer should make to other workers who may have been exposed. When it comes to measles, communication is vitally important, Hammock stresses.
Measles is highly contagious for those who are not immune to the virus, and can be spread to others through coughing and sneezing. Also, the measles virus can live for up to two hours in an airspace where the infected person coughed or sneezed. If other people breathe the contaminated air or touch the infected surface, and then touch their eyes, noses or mouths, they can become infected.
Measles is so contagious that if one person has it, up to 90% of the people close to that person who are not immune also will become infected. And it hangs around for a while.
Infected people can spread measles to others from four days before through four days after appearance of the rash that is associated with the disease.
If you decide to notify employees that they may have been exposed to measles, do it in a way that doesn’t identify the diagnosed individual. Instead, tell them it has come to your attention that someone who was present in the workplace was diagnosed with the measles and that your firm is following recommended medical guidelines.
“To reduce the risk of causing panic, employers should provide only scientific and medical information about the disease, including steps employees can take to reduce the chances of infection,” Hammock urges.
When the infected employee takes leave, keep in mind that federal ADA and Family and Medical Leave Act provisions may apply, depending on the situation, along with state or local laws.
“As a practical matter, the ill employee presumably will need to take time away from work during treatment and recovery, and the employee may or may not have Paid Time Off accrued,” he says.
If the employee does not have PTO available, they should be encouraged to work with human resources to find a way to limit any further exposure to coworkers during recovery, such as by working from home or taking unpaid leave.
Requiring employees to be vaccinated for the measles can be problematic if your employees do not work in a healthcare setting or around vulnerable populations, Hammock also warns.
“There are privacy, disability, and religious discrimination considerations regarding vaccinations that preclude an easy answer. At the very least, and particularly if you are unsure whether employees have been vaccinated for the measles, you could inform them about medical facts regarding measles transmission and treatment.”
Employers can provide a Centers of Disease Control fact sheet and reassure employees that the ill individuals will be out of the office until medically cleared to return. To encourage employees to seek vaccination voluntarily, you can inform them that the measles vaccine is safe and effective, and provide links to the CDC information.
You also can stress that getting the measles vaccine within 72 hours after exposure may stop fellow employees from getting sick, Hammock notes. Some employers go a step further and provide for onsite vaccinations at the workplace or offer to pay for their employees’ vaccinations.
DOL Proposes Apprentice Rules
Long-awaited rules governing apprenticeship training programs were proposed in June by the U.S. Department of Labor.
The rules would establish a process under which DOL can develop what are called Industry- Recognized Apprenticeship Programs (IRAPs). In the near future the department is expected to issue further details on IRAP requirements, along with an application for groups seeking to be recognized as accreditors of IRAPs.
President Trump directed DOL to establish IRAP guidelines in an executive order, he issued in 2017. At the time, Trump said the purpose of the order was to “remove federal restrictions that have prevented many different industries from creating apprenticeship programs.”
The executive order also created a Task Force on Apprenticeship Expansion, which is made up of representatives of business, organized labor, trade and educational associations, and public officials.
At the same time the rules proposal was announced, DOL said it was awarding more than $183 million in grants for developing and expanding apprenticeship programs to educational institutions partnering with businesses who match the funding.
The department also announced the granting of an additional $100 million intended to expand existing apprenticeship programs and help to close the nation’s skills gap.
Under the proposed rule trade, industry and employer groups and associations, educational institutions, state and local government entities, non-profits and unions could individually become a Standards Recognition Entity.
Each of these SREs will be responsible for establishing standards for training, structure and curricula for IRAPs in their industries.
DOL is expected to limit initial approval of IRAPs to industries that currently don’t have robust apprenticeship programs in place.