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Coronavirus Concerns Grow As World Health Organization Declares Pandemic

Declaration of Coronavirus Pandemic by the World Health Organization

On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared a global pandemic regarding the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (also referred to as COVID-19, but more commonly known simply as the “Coronavirus”), which hasspread to over 100 countries and territories.  The WHO defines a pandemic – a designation that it has not used since the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic – as “the worldwide spread of a new disease,” and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) describes it as “an epidemic that has spread over several countries or continents, usually affecting a large number of people.”

As of the date of the WHO’s designation, coronavirus has infected more than 115,000 individuals worldwide, and the number of cases in the United States has surpassed 1,000.

EEOC Pandemic Preparedness Guidance

In light of the WHO’s pandemic designation, employers should familiarize themselves with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) “Pandemic Preparedness in the Workplace and the Americans with Disabilities Act” guide. In a March 4 news alert, the EEOC reminded employers of its 2009 guidance and made clear that the prohibitions set forth in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) do not interfere with or prevent employers from following the CDC’s Interim Guidance for Business and Employers.

Nevertheless, as set forth in our prior blog post, employers should take note that the ADA places general restrictions on the kinds of inquiries that can be made into an employee’s medical status. Specifically, the ADA prohibits employers from making disability-related inquiries and requiring medical examinations, unless (1) the employer can show that the inquiry or exam is job-related and consistent with business necessity, or (2) where the employer has a reasonable belief that 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.

Some key takeaways from the EEOC’s pandemic guide are thatemployers: (i) may encourage teleworking and require the adoption of infection-control practices, such as regular hand washing; (ii) need not wait until an employee returning from travel develops symptoms to inquire about exposure to the Coronavirus; (iii) may require employees who have traveled to affected areas or were otherwise potentially exposed to stay home; and (iv) may ask employees about the reason for their absence from work.

Employers should continue to frequently monitor WHOCDC, and U.S. State Department websites for the latest information about the rapidly evolving Coronavirus situation.  It is also increasingly important to monitor state and city health agencies and government websites for localized considerations regarding the Coronavirus.  On March 10, for example, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo deployed the National Guard to create a one-mile containment area around New York City suburb New Rochelle in an attempt to stem the Coronavirus spread from that area.  Other cities and states are increasingly discouraging large gatherings.

© 2020 Proskauer Rose LLP. National Law Review, Volume X, Number 71


About this Author

Harris M Mufson, Class/Collective Action Attorney, Proskauer
Senior Counsel

Harris Mufson is a senior associate in the Labor & Employment Law Department and a member of the Employment Litigation & Arbitration and Whistleblowing & Retaliation Groups.

Adept at counseling clients at every turn of the litigation process, Harris represents employers in a variety of industries, including financial services, health care, entertainment, sports and legal, with respect to a wide range of labor and employment law matters. These include compensation disputes, employment discrimination and retaliation, whistleblowing,...

Evandro Gigante Labor and Employment Lawyer Proskauer Rose Law FIrm

Evandro Gigante is a partner in the Labor & Employment Law Department and co-head of the Employment Litigation & Arbitration group and the Hiring & Terminations group. He represents clients through a variety of labor and employment matters, including allegations of sexual harassment, race, gender, national origin, disability and religious discrimination. Evandro also counsels employers through reductions-in-force, employee relations issues and other sensitive employment matters.

With a focus on discrimination and harassment claims, Evandro has extensive experience defending clients before federal and state courts. He tries cases in court and before arbitrators and routinely represents clients before administrative agencies such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, as well as state and local human rights commissions. Evandro often draws on his extensive litigation experience to help clients avoid the courtroom by effectuating positive change in the workplace through impactful anti-discrimination and harassment training, as well as robust employment policies.

Working in a wide range of industries, Evandro has experience representing clients in financial services (including hedge funds and private equity firms), professional sports, media, retail, law firms, higher education, social service providers and others. Evandro also advises charter schools and other not-for-profit organizations on labor and employment matters on a pro bono basis.

Guy Brenner, Labor Attorney, Proskauer Rose, arbitration proceedings Lawyer

Guy Brenner is a partner in the Labor & Employment Law Department and co-head of the Non-Compete & Trade Secrets Group. He has extensive experience representing employers in both single-plaintiff and class action matters, as well as in arbitration proceedings. He also regularly assists federal government contractors with the many special employment-related compliance challenges they face.

Guy represents employers in all aspects of employment and labor litigation and counseling, with an emphasis on non-compete and trade secrets issues,...

Laura M. Fant, Labor & Employment Attorney, Proskauer Law Firm

Laura M. Fant is an Associate in the Labor & Employment Department, resident in the New York office. She is a member of the Accessibility and Accommodations Practice Group, and frequently counsels on matters involving the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and state public accommodation law, as well as disability accommodation in the workplace. She has experience conducting accessibility audits and providing ADA and accessibility training for clients in a variety of sectors, including retail, sports, and not-for-profit. Her practice also focuses on wage and hour...

Nayirie K. Mehdikhani Associate California Employment Law Hiring & Terminations Labor-Management Relations

Nayirie Mehdikhani is an associate in the Labor & Employment Law Department. Nayirie represents clients in federal and state litigations, arbitrations, labor-management relations and collective bargaining, as well as, employment matters, including, class actions and employment discrimination.

Previously, Nayirie served as Assistant General Counsel at the New York City Mayor's Office of Labor Relations, where she represented the Mayor and City agencies in every phase of labor administrative proceedings including arbitration, improper practice matters and collective bargaining...