Your health may be a very private matter to you. If you’re someone who values privacy concerning illnesses or symptoms you may be experiencing, you probably want to limit those who know about them to a need-to-know basis. People you’d probably feel comfortable talking about your symptoms with probably include your doctor, family, and friends – would your employer be included in that list? Can they legally ask about your symptoms or illnesses?
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought questions like these into sharp focus, and the answer may not assuage the anxieties of those who value keeping personal matters – like their health – private. But before delving into what your employer can ask about your health, let’s make it clear what’s off the table.
Your Employer Cannot Ask about an ADA-Protected Disability
Should the topic of your health ever come up with an employer, there’s a limit to what they can legally ask you about. That limit tends to stop at disabilities protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), but what exactly are those disabilities? Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and ADA regulations don’t really have a running list of specific conditions that are protected because compiling such information would be a byzantine effort and could unintentionally exclude conditions.
Instead, the ADA regards a disability as a mental or physical impairment that disallows someone to participate in major life events and activities. If you have such a condition, a history of one, or are regarded as having one, you may have an ADA-protected disability.
Typically, this definition has been interpreted to refer to conditions such as the following and more:
- Muscular dystrophy
- Learning disabilities
- Sensory impairments (deafness and blindness)
- Motor function impairments (paralysis)
Is Covid-19 an ADA-Protected Disability?
No. Covid-19 is a worldwide pandemic, and precedent with how the law has regarded the influenza virus has directed health officials to apply many of the same regulations to the new coronavirus strain.
So, Can My Employer Ask About My COVID-19 Status or Symptoms?
Yes. If you call in sick, your employer is protected if they ask you about your symptoms. The reason is that if an employee is displaying symptoms of a serious infectious disease like COVID-19, they may need to enact emergency policies to protect your coworkers.
The CDC has said the following are among the commonly experienced COVID-19 symptoms:
- Dry cough
- Shortness of breath
- Sore throat
If your employer asks if you have these symptoms in a discussion about taking time off of work to treat an illness, they are probably within their right to do so. You are also within your right to decline to answer, but you could have requests for taking sick time denied or face reprimands for taking unapproved time off.
If you are requesting to use the new federally protected paid sick leave, your employer may be able to ask you more direct questions about your COVID-19 status or ask to see documentation of your diagnosis, such as test results.
In any case, your employer is prohibited from disclosing your symptoms or COVID-19 status with anyone. They may indirectly refer to an employee who has contracted the virus, but information that could identify you as such an employee could be unlawful.
Seek Legal Help If Your Employer Violated Your Rights
The coronavirus pandemic is no excuse for employers to be acting out of accord with the law. If you believe an employer has violated your rights, reach out to Pines Federal for legal assistance. We’re an employment law firm that focuses on supporting the claims of federal workers who believe a U.S. government employer has unlawfully mistreated them at work.
Our attorneys bring more than 50 years of combined experience to bear for our firm’s clients. We offer flat fees for case reviews, which can help you determine if you may have a claim for which we can help you pursue fair and just compensation.
For assistance with any employment law matter affecting federal employees, reach out to Pines Federal online or call (800) 801-0598 for assistance.