Business Litigation Alert: "Protecting Employees from Ebola"

Now that the Ebola virus has made its way to the United States, there is understandable concern about contracting it.  Obviously hospitals have a clear responsibility to protect their employees, but what about non-healthcare employers?  What duty does an employer have to protect its employees from Ebola or similar hazards in the workplace?

As a preliminary matter, OSHA (The Occupational Health and Safety Act) requires employers to ensure that their workplace is free of hazards that could cause death or serious physical harm.  As a result, if employees could reasonably be at risk of exposure, appropriate steps must be taken to protect them.

Although we do not know how widespread this outbreak could be in the United States, it is smart to spend time now developing an action plan so that you will be ready in the event your employees somehow become at risk.  Things to consider:

  1. Educate Employees: Employees should be advised that if they have any questions concerning how Ebola is spread and how to avoid transmission, they can consult the CDC website.  The more people are educated, the better.
  2. Encourage Reporting and Action: Employees should be advised to report the development of any symptoms and immediately seek treatment.  Employees should also immediately report any contact with an infected person.  
  3. Act Quickly: Should an employee contract the virus, swift action is critical.  A plan must be in place to notify all employees, particularly those who have come into direct contact with the infected employee.  If possible, there should be an evacuation and decontamination plan in place as well to ensure that all employees are removed from the workplace safely.
At this point, most employers outside of a hospital setting should not be on high alert.  However, education and planning now will be extremely helpful should the outbreak expand over time.
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