Employer Obligations to Protect Employees from Ebola

Now that Ebola has made its way to the United States, many employers are wondering what their obligations are in protecting employees. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently created a web page designed to educate and inform on hazard recognition, medical information, and control and prevention. OSHA highlights industries with employees who are at the greatest risk, such as health care workers; airline and other travel industry personnel; mortuary and death-care workers; laboratory workers; border, customs, and quarantine workers; and emergency responders.

OSHA’s interim general guidance is for employers to follow recognized and generally accepted good infection control practices, using proper personal protective equipment and good hygiene to avoid exposure to infected blood and body fluids, contaminated objects, or other contaminated environmental surfaces. Any occupational exposure to blood or other potentially infectious materials falls under the requirements of the Bloodborne Pathogens Standard (29 CFR 1910.1030). Other occupational exposures may require protection of workers under the PPE Standard (29 CFR 1910.132), Respiratory Protection Standard (29 CFR 1910.134), or the General Duty Clause of the OSH Act (29 USC 654(a)).

OSHA has also provided a fact sheet on cleaning potentially contaminated surfaces for employers in non-health-care and non-laboratory settings . The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) also offers specific guidance for workers cleaning and disinfecting surfaces who have been in contact with blood or body fluids from a traveler known to have or suspected of having Ebola.

While employers are limited by the Americans with Disabilities Act from making inquiries into medical conditions that are not job-related and consistent with business necessity, OSHA tells employees who think they may have been exposed to notify their employer immediately, monitor their health for 21 days, and seek medical attention if they develop Ebola symptoms.

Even though the risk of contracting Ebola is remote, employers can use this opportunity to remind employees about practical actions we can all take to prevent the transmission of disease. And, employers can direct employees with questions to accurate information beyond the news reports. Click here to access OSHA’s web page on Ebola for more information.