What employees should know about the Zika virus

The Zika virus, a disease linked to birth defects, has garnered headlines in the past few weeks because of how it may become an epidemic. It is reportedly transmitted through mosquito bites and has been linked to several South American countries. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has urged women planning on getting pregnant to avoid travelling to nearly a dozen countries in the southern hemisphere.

The newest recommendations bring about questions as to what employers may do regarding employees’ travel to these regions. This post will provide some basic guidance on this issue. 

Don’t limit restrictions to women – Companies that have employees travel internationally cannot forbid pregnant women from travelling  to areas where the Zika virus is a concern. While it may seem like a good idea to do so, it may be viewed as a paternalistic move that constitutes gender discrimination. If any travel restrictions are imposed, they must apply to both men and women.

Don’t require relocation – Employees who are already working in areas where Zika is a concern should be wary of areas where mosquitoes could be a problem. However, employers cannot require employees to relocate.

Accommodate travel refusals – If an employee has a reasonable belief that performing their job could result in imminent death or serious injury, an employer must honor the employee’s request if he or she refuses to travel to an area affected by the Zika virus.

Medical exams – If an employee has recently traveled to an area here the Zika virus has been identified, an employer cannot impose medical exam or impose a quarantine unless there a reasonable belief that the employee poses a direct threat to other employees. 

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