Dental Team Health and the Law

Dental Team Health and the Law

Are your staff safe in the dental office? The points below will help dentists and their office staff keep open communication and understand the legal aspects of returning to work.

Can I require employees to stay home if they are sick?
Yes. The challenge arises regarding whether the employee will be paid during that time, and whether that time off is attributed to vacation or other type of paid time off. Each employer will have to find the right answer for itself. The CDC advises that you can require an employee to be fever- and-symptom-free for 24 hours. Consider a temporary suspension on your illness policy; yes, there may be an employee who will abuse this but a generous policy can potentially stop a serious outbreak within your company.

If an employee contracts COVID-19, does workers’ compensation provide coverage?
An employee who contracts the coronavirus while at work might have coverage under workers’ compensation, but the burden would be on the employee to prove that the illness was contracted through the course of employment and not elsewhere. Your insurance carrier will evaluate each claim on its own individual set of circumstances.

Can I require employees to wash their hands?
Yes, according to the Americans with Disabilities Act. And, according to OSHA, employers have the obligation to provide a reasonably safe workplace. So you should be encouraging employees to take such measures.

Can I ask employees to disclose if they have a compromised immune system or chronic health condition?
No. An inquiry asking an employee to disclose a compromised immune system or a chronic health condition is disability-related because the response is likely to disclose the existence of a disability. The Americans With Disabilities Act does not permit such an inquiry in the absence of objective evidence that pandemic symptoms will cause a direct threat. Such evidence is completely absent before a pandemic occurs.

If one of our employees is quarantined, what information can we share with our employees? Who can we share it with?
If an employee is confirmed to have COVID-19, employers should inform fellow employees of their possible exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace. Employers should not, however, disclose to co-workers the identity of the quarantined employee because confidentiality requirements under federal law such as the Americans with Disabilities Act or state law may apply.

Can employers force employees to come to work, even if there is a known exposure-potential situation?
Currently, yes, employers can generally require employees to continue working their scheduled hours as assigned, onsite, as a condition of continued employment, with absences addressed under the applicable attendance policy. Before issuing any ultimatum, however, we recommend communication to employees about what the employer is doing to mitigate the risk to the extent reasonably possible. This may allay fears enough that the employee will be willing to meet attendance expectations.

In situations of known potential exposure, can employers require employees to be tested for coronavirus?
No. Only health care providers can order testing, and with tests still in short supply, even individuals with symptoms consistent with coronavirus may not be tested if, based on age and medical condition, it is unlikely they would suffer severe serious effects even if infected.

Based on CDC advice that older people as well as those with serious chronic medical conditions stay home as much as possible, should employers require employees aged 60 or older or with health conditions to work remotely or not at all?
We do not recommend taking that action based on federal, state and local protections against age discrimination, as well as disability discrimination laws intended to provide equal employment opportunities to people with disabilities. These disability discrimination laws generally do not allow employers to remove employees from situations based on a medical condition for preventive purposes unless and until the situation poses a direct that to the employee’s health and safety that cannot be effectively alleviated through other measures. Circumstances could conceivably rise to that level at some point, but as things stand now, presence in most workplaces would not rise to that “direct threat” standard.

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