The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website recommends specific precautions for people traveling to at risk areas and encourages people to monitor their health for 21 days following potential exposure. The following link is the CDC online hub for Ebola information and is a great resource for both you and your employees to access: www.cdc.gov/vhf/ebola/prevention.
Here are some other tips for communicating with your employees about the disease:
- Stay calm. Educate employees about how Ebola is spread and best practices to avoid transmission.
- Encourage employees to self-report any potential symptoms (either for themselves or family members who have recently returned from one of the affected areas) and to request PTO or a leave of absence if symptoms develop.
- According to the CDC, the symptoms of the Ebola virus include:
- Fever higher than 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit
- Severe headache
- Muscle pain
- Abdominal (stomach) pain
- Unexplained hemorrhage (bleeding or bruising)
- Establish an emergency preparedness plan including reporting procedures, communication plans & medical options
For an employee who has been in the proximity of an affected area and is exhibiting any symptom of the disease, his or her physician will determine whether the employee should remain home from work based on any symptoms that may appear. If a serious medical condition is confirmed, the employee’s leave may then be designated as FMLA.
Any other employee requesting time off because of a fear of Ebola with no medical justification should use any accrued vacation or paid time off time as per your company policy. Otherwise, the time off, if granted, may be unpaid time off.
With regard to qualifying for Worker’s Compensation coverage, two tests must be satisfied before an illness or disease can be considered occupational and thus compensable under workers’ compensation:
- First, the illness or disease must be “occupational,” meaning that it arose out of the course and scope of employment.
- Second, the illness or disease must arise out of or be caused by conditions “peculiar” to the work.
The simplest test toward judging “arising out of and in the course and scope of employment” is to ask: Was the employee benefiting the employer when exposed to the illness or disease? Be warned, this “test” does not consider the various state laws, interpretations and intricacies of this question.
Test two is a higher hurdle – Is the illness or disease “peculiar” to the work? If the illness or disease is not peculiar to the work, it is not compensable. An example of this “peculiar” exposure is a healthcare worker contracting an infectious disease such as HIV or hepatitis as a result of contact with infected blood.
Qualifying an illness or disease first as occupational and secondly (though more importantly) as compensable may ultimately require industrial commission or court intervention to sort medical opinion from legal facts. There is no singular test that can be applied to every case to declare an illness or disease as compensable or non-compensable, thus each case is judged on its own merits and encompassing circumstances.
Industrial commissions and courts: 1) compile the opinion of the treating physician and the opinions of other expert medical witnesses; 2) couple the medical evidence with the facts surrounding the case; and 3) compare the subject case with precedent to render a compensability ruling based on the facts. This process can sometimes take years.
Judged against the qualifying factors presented, is Ebola a true workers’ compensation exposure for most employers? The short answer is, “no, not likely.” Other than the fact that this illness has garnered intense attention in the news, it is no more occupational in nature than a non-pandemic, “no-name” flu.
Unless it can be proven that the employee has an increased risk of contracting Ebola because of a peculiarity of his job, this virus is not occupational. Employees working in the healthcare industry, or possibly a truck driver who loads or unloads Ebola tainted waste, may be able to prove such increased risk as they have little choice but to expose themselves to the bacteria as a regular part of their job duties.
With some Ebola-infected patients being treated at facilities in the United States, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration has issued guidance on its website relative to the transport of Ebola-tainted waste, which is classified as a Category A infectious substance under the hazmat regulations. Transport of such materials for disposal generally requires several layers of packaging, including an outer hard container effectively sealed. To explore Category A infectious substances hazmat transport regulations in detail, and specific guidance relative to Ebola, visit this page on PHMSA’s website.