1. Can an employer stop an employee from wearing a medical mask or respirator?
An employer may stop an employee, under most circumstances, from wearing a medical mask or respirator under OSHA respiratory protection standards. See 29 C.F.R. 1910.134. A respirator must be provided to employees only when necessary to protect the employee’s health. Furthermore, OSHA’s guidance on the issue is that when a respirator is not required, “an employer may provide respirators at the request of employees or permit employees to use their own respirators, if the employer determines that such respirator use will not in itself create a hazard.” 29 C.F.R. 1910.134(c)(2).
2. Can an employee refuse to come to work out fear of being infected with COVID-19?
Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act (“OCH Act”), employees are only allowed to refuse to work if they believe they are in imminent danger. Imminent danger includes any conditions or practices on the job where a danger exists and can reasonably be expected to cause death or serious physical harm immediately or before the imminence of such danger can be eliminated. Employees are generally protected against discipline or discharge for engaging in such activity.
3. What to Do If an Employee Presents with Symptoms of Possible COVID-19 Infection?
If an employee presents with symptoms of a fever or difficulty breathing, out of caution, the employee should seek medical attention. A fever or difficulty breathing, although not positive confirmation, is symptomatic of COVID-19 (see CDC info below)
4. Is it legal to ask an employee to work from home or leave work if they show signs of infection?
An employer can ask an employee to seek medical attention and get tested if they present with symptoms for COVID-19. Similarly, an employer may require an employee to go home if the employee displays COVID-19 symptoms.
5. Is it legal to check the temperature of an employee suspected of having symptoms of COVID-19 or similar virus?
It may be unlawful to check the temperature of an employee suspected of being positive for COVID-19 if such a test is not job-related and consistent with business necessity. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), employers are restricted from inquiring about an employee’s medical status—i.e., requiring medical exams—unless it is (1) job-related and consistent with business necessity; or (2) a reasonable belief exist, where the employee poses a “direct threat” to the health or safety of the individual or others that cannot otherwise be eliminated or reduced by reasonable accommodation. Please consult local and national health services for information about “direct threats.”