Your key sales employee — the one who was setting up your booth for the conference — has come to you expressing concern about the Zika virus. Perhaps she’s pregnant. Or perhaps he’s married with a pregnant wife expecting at home.
The answers are still developing. The Department of Labor’s OSHA division advises that:
Employers should consider allowing flexibility in required travel for workers who are concerned about Zika virus exposure. Flexible travel and leave policies may help control the spread of Zika virus, including to workers who are concerned about reproductive effects potentially associated with Zika virus infection.
The CDC has also issued advisories for the Miami-Dade area including that:
- Pregnant women should not travel to these areas.
- Pregnant women and their partners living in or traveling to these areas should follow steps to prevent mosquito bites.
- Women and men who live in or traveled to these areas and who have a pregnant sex partner should use condoms or other barriers to prevent infection every time they have sex or not have sex during the pregnancy.
What can employers do?
First off, employers should not make any blanket decisions for pregnant employees about whether they should travel. Rather, employers should educate all employees (including any pregnant ones) about the risks associated with the Zika virus. If an employee refuses to travel, employers should evaluate the situation on a case-by-case basis.
But beyond that and considering that the transmission of the Zika Virus in Florida is still mainly with mosquitoes, employers can advise employees to use insect repellent and to reduce unnecessary outdoor work.
This is still a fluid situation but already there are already many other law blog posts on the subject — nearly all of which are repeating the same information. Any one of them can also be reviewed as well.
Employers should not overreact, but rather recall the lessons learned from prior disease outbreaks like H1N1 back in 2009. Some flexibility in the short term is going to be required.