As Oklahomans begin to return to the workplace following the lifting of stay-at-home orders, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has issued some guidance for employers regarding employee accommodations that comply with federal nondiscrimination laws. Highlights of this guidance aimed at protecting returning workers are as follows:
Preexisting mental health conditions. Employees with preexisting mental health conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or anxiety may be negatively impacted by disruptions caused by COVID-19 and are entitled to reasonable accommodation when returning to work.
Disclosure of medical conditions. Employers cannot ask employees who do not have any symptoms of COVID-19 if they have any underlying medical conditions that could put them at extra risk for contracting the coronavirus. However, if an employee does disclose a medical condition voluntarily that may put him or her at additional risk for contracting the coronavirus, an employer may then obtain confirmation from the employee’s physician and continue to keep all medical information confidential. In addition, employees with underlying medical conditions may request special accommodation from employers.
Protective equipment. If employees are required to wear protective clothing such as masks, gloves, or gowns, the EEOC considers it a best practice for employers to either provide this equipment or reimburse employees for purchasing it for work purposes. While there is no statewide order in effect in Oklahoma, some local municipalities have instituted orders requiring protective face coverings.
Depending on workplace hazards, OSHA guidelines may require some employees to wear personal protection equipment (PPE). In this case, employers must provide PPE at no cost to employees and provide training in its proper use.
PPE modifications. Unless it would cause undue hardship under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) or Title VII, employers should accommodate employee requests for modified PPE. For example, non-latex gloves should be provided for those employees with a latex allergy. Accommodations may also need to be made for religious garb.
Review the entire updated guidance from the EEOC regarding the COVID-19 pandemic.
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