Well, it has happened already. My firm is getting calls from employees who have been terminated or fear termination because their employers are afraid they may have contracted Ebola during recent trips to the African continent.
I was interviewed this week on WOAI-TV regarding this issue. Here's the video:
I think the most important points to take away on this issue are these:
- Employers should keep in the mind that the chances one of their employees actually has Ebola is incredibly low. Don't make decisions based on fear and ignorance.
- Employers should keep in mind that if an employee actually does have Ebola, that employee is likely protected from discharge by the Americans with Disabilities act. Employers have a duty to accommodate conditions such as this. In the case of Ebola, a short leave of absence is the obvious accommodation of choice. Whatever an employer does, it should be done thoughtfully and with the assistance of competent employment law counsel.
- Employees should understand that people's fears of Ebola right now are disproportionately high and in some cases completely irrational. If you suspect that your employer is afraid you may have contracted the disease because you recently traveled to Africa or were near someone who did, open a dialogue with your employer. Employers are forbidden under the ADA from asking you about your health without solid evidence that you have contracted the disease but employees have no such restriction. Let cool heads and dialogue be the rule, not the exception.
In the case of Ebola, let's not let fear of the disease become more of a problem than the disease itself.