The Zika virus: an employer’s perspective

On Behalf of | Feb 16, 2016 | Employment Litigation |

Employers in California and elsewhere obviously have to pay attention to many things.

Including mosquitoes.

In this modern day and age, it doesn’t take long for global medical authorities to identify dangerous viruses and diseases — regardless of source — and seek to combat them through public education, travel restrictions, interventionary care and other measures.

A current source of material and growing concern to health authorities across the world is the so-called “Zika” virus, a disease that is known to be spread by mosquitoes and, likely, through sexual contact and blood transfusions.

As noted in a notice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) discussing Zika, the disease is “possibly linked to birth defects,” a connection that is for obvious reasons of instant concern to pregnant women, would-be mothers and their partners.

And, potentially, to employers.

Here’s why. In attempting to formulate company guidelines and policies regarding workers’ employment-related movements and treatment in light of the virus, office managers might run afoul of labor laws and open themselves up to legal liability on the grounds of employment discrimination.

Here’s a quick hypothetical to underscore the point. Imagine a case where an employer — in good faith and out of concern for a worker’s health — prohibits a pregnant employee from traveling with co-workers to engage in work in a foreign locale where Zika is reported to be a widespread problem.

If only that single worker — or, say, every pregnant employee — is banned from work participation, that exclusion could possibly bring a discrimination-based labor law claim.

So, too, could a company decision to recall only a select group of workers from a branch of the company operating in a known Zika environment. Or, alternatively, consider the potential issues arising from a company decision to assign a worker to a region that is a known Zika enviroment.

Company policy should be evenhanded and applied to all workers in a similar manner.  Yet, there is a fine line that must be followed by a company in such situations but where that line lies is not yet clear.

That “fine line” can indeed be a bit difficult to stay aligned with. An employer (or an employee who feels unfairly singled out, as well) with questions or concerns can contact a proven attorney experienced in employment law matters and litigation for answers and, when necessary, legal representation.

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