With the current Ebola outbreak making news headlines, Employers may be considering what steps can and should be taken in the event that an Employee has recently travelled to an area that is experiencing a significant rate of infection. The World Health Organisation has stated the "risk of a tourist or businessperson becoming infected with Ebola virus during a visit to the affected areas and developing disease after returning is extremely low, even if the visit included travel to the local areas from which primary cases have been reported." Nevertheless, Employers understandably want to ensure a safe workplace.

Action plans for disease prevention may include business travel restrictions, providing health information to Employees and in some cases, provision of hand sanitisers.  The following guidelines are recommended for Employers:

  • If it is suspected that specific Employees pose a risk to others, Employers should ask them whether they have had any potential exposure to any viruses etc. during travel, which can include personal travel.
  • If government agencies and officials have recommended that people who have travelled to specified locations remain at home for several days until it is clear they do not have pandemic illness symptoms then the Employer should adhere to these guidelines
  • If an Employer has a reasonable belief, based on objective evidence that an Employee will pose a direct threat to others because of a medical condition then they are entitled to request medical information or ask the Employee to undergo a medical examination. If any medical evidence is sought based on subjective perceptions or irrational fears then this may be considered discriminatory.
  • If an individual has travelled to a country experiencing an Ebola outbreak and exhibit symptoms consistent with Ebola, (fever, severe headache, stomach pain) regardless of any known exposure, they are advised to see their Doctor immediately and limit their movement during a period of observation.
  • Individuals who do not exhibit any symptoms and who have had no known exposure are recommended to self-monitor for symptoms for a 21-day period after leaving an outbreak area, during which time an individual may continue their normal activities, including work. Guidelines from the Centre for Disease control and prevention state that the transmission of Ebola only occurs when an individual is exhibiting symptoms. Thus, there is no need to require medical clearance of Employees who have returned from travel to a specified location who report no Ebola-like symptoms and no exposure to individuals with Ebola. Nevertheless, employers should continue to monitor the CDC's website to remain clear of any changes in monitoring recommendations or workplace restrictions for recent travellers.
  • In contrast, Employers may require Employees who have travelled to the specified locations and who report possible contact with an infected individual and/or Ebola-like symptoms to stay home until medically fit to return to work. Likewise, if such an Employee develops Ebola-like symptoms at work, an Employer may send the Employee home until medically fit to return to work.

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