The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recently gave South Carolina businesses broad power to bend the rules during the COVID-19 outbreak.

The alterations are mostly updates to accommodations the agency made during the H1N1 swine flu outbreak. According to the EEOC, the changes balance the need to ensure health and safety at work with the rights of employees. So, both workers and employers in the Palmetto State should be aware of these changes and how they affect their rights and responsibilities.

Asking About Symptoms

Normally, the Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits any health or symptom-related questions. That could include “how are you feeling” social inquiries. It’s illegal to use such information in hiring and firing decisions.

However, an illness pandemic decreases the right to privacy. So, employers may ask questions regarding flu-like symptoms, such as fever, sneezing, coughing, and sore throat. These questions could also include inquiries about travel patterns. It does not matter if the person is a potential new hire or a current employee.

Go Home/Stay Home Directives

Ordinarily, employees have a right to come to work while they are sick. That’s usually not the smartest thing to do, but for many, it is a matter of economic reality. 

Illness pandemics affect this right as well. If a worker or interviewee comes onto the property displaying symptoms, employers can tell these people to go home and stay home until their symptoms improve. The same thing applies if the person gets sick at work.

Proof of Health

Before employers allow sick workers to return, employers can require proof of fitness. This right only applies during serious illness pandemics. 

There are some pragmatic concerns here, according to the EEOC. Many healthcare providers are spread thinly during illness pandemics, so demanding a formal certificate might be unreasonable. Instead, employers should accept the informal proof, such as notes, stamps, and emails. Additionally, doctors might hesitate to state, in absolute terms, that a person is virus-free. The EEOC requires some flexibility in this area as well.

Fever Screening

Not all coronavirus patients have the same physical symptoms. So, fever screening is often a good way to determine who might be sick. Such health screenings are normally off-limits, except perhaps in the context of a wellness program. But these times are far from normal.

However, the right to screen employees is not absolute. Fever detection gadgets are not 100 percent reliable, so employers must take this factor into account. Moreover, employees who use these devices must be properly trained. Reading the instruction manual is probably not enough. And, new hires can only be fever-screened at the post-offer phase.

New Hire Start Dates

If a new hire is symptomatic or has been potentially exposed to the virus, employers may delay start dates for an appropriate time period, usually fourteen days. If the employer needs the applicant to start immediately, the employer can rescind the employment offer in these situations.

Government agencies often suspend the rules during times of crisis. For a confidential consultation with an experienced Greenville employment law attorney, contact the Briggs Law Firm. After-hours visits are available.

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