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How Should Employers Respond to the Monkeypox Public Health Emergency?

August 16, 2022
Monkeypox

Since May 2022, the United States has experienced the single largest Monkeypox outbreak in the nation’s history. In fact, on Aug. 4, 2022, the Biden Administration declared Monkeypox a national public health emergency. While not expected to reach pandemic levels, Monkeypox continues to infect thousands of individuals across the United States, with no signs of slowing down.

What is Monkeypox?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Monkeypox is a rare disease caused by the Monkeypox virus, a member of the same family as the virus that causes smallpox. Monkeypox was first discovered in 1958, with the first human case recorded in 1970. Despite its name, the precise source of Monkeypox remains unknown. Common symptoms of Monkeypox include fever, rash, swelling of the lymph nodes, muscle aches and chills. While Monkeypox is primarily transmitted through close personal contact with the infectious lesions or bodily fluid and/or prolonged exposure to respiratory secretions, contact with surfaces that previously touched the infectious lesions or bodily fluid may also facilitate the spread of the disease. Currently, it is believed that infected individuals can spread Monkeypox from the onset of symptoms until all symptoms have completely resolved.

Steps Employers Should Take to Prevent the Spread of Monkeypox

While the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has yet to issue guidance specifically pertaining to the Monkeypox outbreak, there are several steps that employers can take to both prevent the spread of Monkeypox in the workplace and ensure continued compliance with federal law:

  • Follow CDC Isolation and Prevention Practices. On Aug. 2, 2022, the CDC issued Isolation and Prevention Practices for People with Monkeypox. Employers should thoroughly review these practices to prevent the spread of Monkeypox amongst employees. Specifically, the CDC recommends that individuals infected with Monkeypox remain isolated for the duration of illness. If an individual is unable to remain isolated for the duration of illness, the CDC suggests several other ways to reduce spread, including covering all parts of the Monkeypox rash, wearing a well-fitted mask, and avoiding close physical contact with other people and animals. Importantly, these practices do not apply in healthcare settings, as the CDC has also recently issued guidance for Monkeypox infection prevention, particularly for healthcare settings.
  • Reinforce Current Sick Leave Policies. Employers should continue to abide by current sick leave policies, which should include procedures for employees to call in sick and/or leave work if they become sick during the workday. Employers should also review current policies and ensure that they are clear and are being followed by all employees. While developing a comprehensive Monkeypox policy is likely premature at this point, employers should also consider circulating a more general infectious disease policy.
  • Continue Abiding by ADA Requirements. Although the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has not issued any guidance on Monkeypox, employers should continue to abide by the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and any other applicable state/local disability laws if Monkeypox is deemed to be a disability and/or a direct threat under the ADA. Indeed, employers should provide accommodations to employees with Monkeypox, as well as employees with other medical conditions that may place them at a higher risk if they were to contract Monkeypox and pregnant employees.
  • Reinforce Anti-Discrimination and Anti-Harassment Policies. With the stigma surrounding Monkeypox and the disproportionate impact of the disease on the LGBTQ+ community, employers should actively remind employees of their anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies. Employees should also ensure that employees receive accurate information about Monkeypox in order to reduce stigma surrounding the disease in the workplace.
  • Review Bloodborne Pathogen Policies. Employers with employees who have occupational exposure to blood or other potentially infectious materials should review their bloodborne pathogen policies and enforcement practices, as these policies and practices may also prevent the spread of Monkeypox among employees. In fact, all employers may want to consider this type of policy since OSHA imposes a general duty upon all employers to provide a work environment free from hazards that cause, or are likely to cause, death or serious physical harm.

KJK will continue to monitor any updates on Monkeypox guidance for employers in the workplace. If you have any questions or would like to discuss further, please contact Rob Gilmore at (RSG@kjk.com; 216.736.7240) or another attorney within KJK’s Labor & Employment practice group.

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