Zika Virus in the Workplace: Legal Considerations for Employers

By Jonathan R. Tung, Esq. on August 17, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

By now you've heard: Zika is in the United States and it's spreading.

As with anything, this too shall pass. Not to say that a national dialogue and public diligence is a bad thing, but people tend to get caught up in irrational panic when a new disease threatens the public. Remember swine flu?

A few employers are wondering how the virus will implicate employer and workplace laws. Today, we'll step into the weeds and give our take on this issue.

Occupational Safety and Health Act

The first law that just jumps out and grabs us is the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA). This federal statute mandates employers provide an employment space "free from recognized hazards that are causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm to employees."

The virus is notorious for afflicting unborn children with debilitating and life-changing microcephaly, but its affects on mothers (and men) are less established. Still, if an employee is known to be affected with the virus, due diligence almost requires an employer to send that employee home. Any suit he or she brings afterward will be "worth" the safety concerns of the workplace.

Family Medical Leave Act

Also pay attention to the FMLA, which may require an employer to give an employee afflicted with the virus up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave time to spend with their families during a medical event. The most obvious one that comes to mind is the birth of a new child -- hopefully without manifestations of the disease.

Education for All

Making a business work is all about risk management. Be sure to read the fact sheet released by OSHA and NIOSH, organizations which have been monitoring the Zika virus's spread. It's full of information related to public awareness about the disease and halting its progress.

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