On June 11, the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) published a new COVID-19 technical assistance publication: “What You Should Know About COVID-19 and the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act, and Other EEO Laws.”
The publication is intended to provide employers with answers to questions that have arisen due to the novel coronavirus pandemic and the ways that it has altered the workplace and hiring. The guidance in the document is intended to help employers move forward with their operations without violating key legislation such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Rehabilitation Act, the Civil Right Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act.
The guidance provided in the new EEOC document falls into several categories. One major category concerns return-to-work policies. Many businesses have been operating remotely, working with skeleton crews or smaller-than-usual teams due to furloughs and layoffs. As employers bring their teams back to the workplace, there are several new approaches that the EEOC is recommending for employees seeking disability accommodations and other flexibilities in work arrangements.
Another focus of the document is making sure that employers are carrying out health screenings of their workers. It has become common practice in many sectors for employers to require temperature checks for all employees entering the workplace, ask a series of health-related questions, require COVID-19 testing, and more. These screenings are intended to minimize the chances of COVID-19 spreading among employees. However, there have been many frequently asked questions about how these screenings might infringe upon the ADA and other legislation. The recent EEOC document seeks to answer these questions and related queries about the confidentiality of the medical information that employers learn through the screenings.
The guidance extends to hiring and onboarding processes. Employers have reshaped many of their hiring protocols in response to COVID-19, whether by embracing virtual hiring strategies or screening for COVID-19 symptoms. The EEOC guidance answers questions about how employers can incorporate COVID-19 screenings into their pre-employment screening strategies.
A section of the new document addresses harassment and discrimination against individuals “who are or are perceived to be of Chinese or other Asian national origin.” Because the first outbreak of COVID-19 took place in China, before the virus spread to the rest of the world, the pandemic has led to anti-Asian sentiments in some circles.
Employers, whether they are hiring actively or simply preparing to return their teams to the workplace, should review the new EEOC guidance document thoroughly as they shape their policies. COVID-19 is an unprecedented event, and many employers have been improvising as they devise strategies to maintain operations. With the release of this new technical assistance publication, employers now have access to EEOC-approved answers to many of their bigger questions about returning to work, screening employees for COVID-19, and maintaining a safer workplace without overstepping legal requirements.
You can find the whole document on the EEOC’s website.