Question: If employees have concerns regarding the transmission of the Ebola virus from co-workers who have been in the proximity of an affected area, can these employees be absent from work? What type of absence would this be considered? Would these employees be eligible for Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave?
Answer: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website recommends specific precautions for people traveling to the area 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 to include reporting procedures, communication plans, and 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 should use any accrued vacation time as per your company policy. Otherwise, the time off may be unpaid time off.