On August 4, 2022, the Biden Administration declared the monkeypox outbreak a public health emergency. Monkeypox is not expected to reach pandemic levels. Even so, employers should be prepared in case an employee tests positive for monkeypox.
What is Monkeypox?
Monkeypox is a rare disease that is part of the same family of viruses as smallpox. The virus spreads primarily through close personal contact with the infectious rash, scabs, or body fluids, and respiratory secretions during prolonged, face-to-face contact. It also can be spread by touching items (such as clothing or linens) that previously touched the infectious rash or body fluids. Monkeypox symptoms include fever, rash, lymph node swelling, muscle aches, and chills. According, to the CDC, monkeypox is rarely fatal.
What Guidance is Available to Employers Regarding Monkeypox in the Workplace?
The CDC has released Isolation and Prevention Practices for People with Monkeypox that provides insight on how to prevent the transmission of monkeypox. See https://www.cdc.gov/poxvirus/monkeypox/clinicians/isolation-procedures.html. Further, on or about August 11, it issued guidance Preventing Spread to Others | Monkeypox | Poxvirus | CDC (https://www.cdc.gov/poxvirus/monkeypox/if-sick/preventing-spread.html ) which provides that those infected with monkeypox should not go to work but telework (if able). Employers should be familiar with this guidance; however, healthcare providers should review the CDC’s specific guidance addressed to them https://www.cdc.gov/poxvirus/monkeypox/clinicians/infection-control-healthcare.html.
What Can Employers do to Mitigate Monkeypox Concerns?
Employers should consider preparing a written plan that addresses efforts taken to help keep employees safe and healthy. While a comprehensive monkeypox policy may be premature (monkeypox is not a pandemic), employers who do not already have an infectious disease policy should consider developing one.
Further, employers may want to review policies on sick leave, reasonable accommodations, discrimination, harassment, and retaliation. Regardless of the virus at issue, it is important for employers to follow their workplace policies when employees become sick. Employees who call in sick or are sent home to isolate due to monkeypox may be entitled to use FMLA (if applicable), sick leave, vacation, or other paid time off (PTO) accruals.