Let's say you're an employer in New York or New Jersey and one of your employees has been exposed to Ebola and is under mandatory quarantine. What are your obligations to the employee? And, frankly, what is your obligation to your remaining staff?
Think calmly. Before you have a freak out and start mandating all sorts of rules and thinking about firing this person because you never, ever want to be near him again, remember that the flu kills a lot more people than Ebola has and 90 percent of us come to work when sick. As many as 49,000 people die each year from the flu, in the United States alone. Worldwide since 1976, Ebola has claimed 6703 lives, total. So chill. When your employee returns, you're not all going to be infected and die.
Think FMLA. If you have more than 50 employees and your affected employee has been with the company for a year and has worked 1250 hours in the past 12 months, then the employee is eligible for protections under the Family Medical Leave Act if they are, indeed, sick. Ebola is definitely a serious illness covered by FMLA. You're required to hold the person's job, and return them to employment in the same (or similar) job once she's recovered.
But, what if the person isn't actually sick? What if she's merely sitting in quarantine watching television and surfing the internet? Employment Attorney Eric Meyer says that such employees still qualify for FMLA. Meyer advises:
Even if your employee had zero Ebola symptoms, but was being quarantined for observation, she still would likely qualify for FMLA. That is, a serious health condition also includes "any period of incapacity or treatment connected with inpatient care (i.e., an overnight stay) in a hospital, hospice, or residential medical care facility." I'm going to assume that an Ebola quarantine tent is the equivalent of a hospital.
What all of this means is that if your employee in the Ebola quarantine tent still has FMLA left to use, give it to her. If she has paid time off left in her bank and she requests to be paid while on FMLA (or you require that employees run PTO concurrently with FMLA), then pay her.
Think ADA. If you have fewer than 50 employees or your quarantined employee doesn't have the required number of hours at your business, you aren't free from obligation to hold a job. The American's with Disability Act goes into affect at 15 employees. Now, since Ebola is a temporary disease that your employee either recovers from or dies from, it may not seem like a "disability" in the traditional sense of the word. And, in the past, that might have been the case. However, ADA was expanded a few years and now can include temporary conditions.
So, ADA might apply as well. ADA requires that you make reasonable accommodations for your employee. What's reasonable? Well, a good question, always, that depends on your business. But, leaves of absence are often considered a reasonable accommodation. Additionally, if your employee is merely quarantined and not sick, working on her laptop from quarantine would most likely qualify as reasonable.
So, most likely you're going to need to hold a job for your quarantined employee. You can, however, require a fitness for duty certificate from her doctor on her return, Meyer says, which you'll probably want for your peace of mind.
Think pay. Neither FMLA nor ADA require that you pay the employee for leave, although if they have vacation time or sick time available, this would apply then as well. If your quarantined employee is telecommuting, you must pay her according to all laws, including overtime pay if applicable.
And if none of these apply? Do you really want the bad press of being the business that fires someone under Ebola quarantine? Because guaranteed, you will be. Even if you just have 10 employees or your lawyer says that ADA doesn't apply to a quarantined employee who is not currently ill, you'll get bad press. And if that doesn't scare you, use a bit of compassion. Your poor employee is probably in a panic and scared out of her mind. Don't pull her job out from under her as well.