The Biden Administration officially declared Monkeypox a public health emergency on August 4, 2022, following the declaration of a state emergency by state and local governments across the country.
The declaration poses a myriad of challenges for US employers, but the silver lining of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is that employers are already well-versed in how to deal with public health emergencies.
Many of the policies and procedures in place during the COVID-19 pandemic can also be used to respond to monkeypox public health emergencies. This alert provides information about the Monkeypox virus and how employers can be proactive to keep their workforce safe and avoid violating employment laws.
Monkeypox Quick Facts
According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), monkeypox is a virus in the same family as the virus that causes smallpox. It was first discovered in 1958, when a smallpox-like disease appeared in colonies of monkeys kept for research – hence the name Monkeypox.
Monkeypox virus is spread through close, personal, often skin-to-skin contact. The virus can be spread by direct body contact, contact with objects/clothes used by someone with monkeypox, and respiratory secretions. If the virus is infected during pregnancy, it can be passed to the fetus. Fortunately, monkeypox is usually milder than smallpox and is rarely fatal.
Common symptoms of monkeypox include an outbreak of a rash that looks like a pimple or blister that may be painful or itchy, fever, headache, muscle aches, swollen lymph nodes, chills, exhaustion, and respiratory symptoms. Symptoms usually begin within three weeks of exposure and usually last two to three weeks. The virus can spread from the time symptoms start until the rash heals. The CDC recommends that people infected with monkeypox be isolated at home until symptoms are gone. Although at-home test kits for monkeypox are not currently available, tests are available through commercial and public laboratories.
Media reports highlight higher rates of monkeypox infection among gay and bisexual men, creating a stigma against members of the LGBTQ+ community. Given that monkeypox originated in West and Central African countries, racial and geographic stigma may also play a role. However, these stigmas are unwarranted given that monkeypox can be transmitted to anyone regardless of gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, race, national origin, or age.
Proactive Steps for Employers
Employers should continue to follow existing sickness policies, which generally should include procedures to isolate employees from calling in sick or isolating them if they have symptoms or diagnoses of monkeypox, use of sick time, or other paid time off (PTO). ) and notification to other employees who may have been exposed. Now is a good time to review these policies to ensure procedures are clear and followed consistently for all employees. Employers must also ensure that all employee health information is kept strictly confidential.
The EEOC has yet to issue any job guidance regarding Monkeypox. Nevertheless, employers must continue to comply with the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and any other applicable state and local disability laws regarding the accommodation of employees with monkeypox or other medical conditions that may place them at higher risk. if they are infected with the virus. Employers should also consider making reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers, given the possibility of transmission of the virus to fetuses.
Employers should also be aware of the potential for monkeypox workplace discrimination and harassment based on race, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, or disability status. Proactive employers should remind their workforce of anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies and take steps to provide accurate information about monkeypox to employees to reduce the stigma associated with the virus.
Employers should continue to monitor announcements from the CDC and local public health authorities for updates on monkeypox, how to prevent the spread of the virus, and what to do if employees have symptoms.