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According to the World Health Organization, the Zika virus is now a global health emergency. The virus has turned up in the United States, and researchers are learning more each day about how the virus is spread and its potential effects on infected people and fetuses.
Here's what you need to know about the Zika virus and its potential impact on your small business and employees:
The Centers for Disease Control has warned that pregnant woman should avoid travel to Cape Verde, the Caribbean, Central America, Mexico, the Pacific Islands, and South America where transmission of the Zika virus is ongoing. While you can refrain from sending employees to these areas for work, employers can't restrict the personal travel of employees. So you can't prevent an employee's Jamaican vacation.
Similarly, you may not be able to prevent an employee who has already traveled to a Zika hotspot from returning to work. Because no health agencies have imposed any quarantine on people returning from Zika transmission zones, you could be opening your business up to privacy, disability, or wage and hour lawsuits by banning an employee from working.
And you can't require returning employees to undergo medical examinations, either. Although there are exceptions for food service workers, the Americans With Disabilities Act prohibits employers from requiring medical examinations.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration allows employee to refuse to work if there is an objectively "reasonable belief that there is imminent death or serious injury," and the Department of Labor has been cracking down on worker endangerment cases. So be wary of employees refusing to work or travel based on Zika concerns.
OSHA also requires employers with employees who are exposed to blood or bodily fluids as a part of their job to have a specific program, protections, and training in place to protect those employees.
The Zika virus could expose your small business to increased legal liability. Make sure you're prepared by talking to an experienced employment attorney today.
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