Whether your business has continued to operate with most employees at your work place, you’re starting to bring everyone back to the office, or you have a significant portion of employees working from home, be assured when employees communicate, they are asking each other about vaccination and disease status.
Questions before meetings (even virtual), in the kitchen, during a break or at lunch invariably will include items such as:
- Have you gotten the COVID-19 “vaccination?”
- Have you had COVID-19?
- Aren’t you worried about getting COVID-19 from your spouse/roommate?
- What symptoms did you have?
- Did you get tested?
- What kind of testing?
- Did you hear co-worker has COVID-19?
- Doesn’t Jane look like she’s coming down with COVID-19?
- I heard Joe isn’t spending the holidays with his grand child because he hasn’t been “vaccinated.”
While questions may arise from employee to employee, they still might be soliciting confidential health information that is inappropriate and can be overheard by managers. In fact, it’s not uncommon for a supervisor to be within a group or within earshot of the employees discussing health information.
Employers should remind and/or train supervisors and managers as to what is appropriate communication and how to handle conversations they overhear. Employers may also consider providing guidance to employees regarding appropriate communication to try to minimize gossip and bullying. In fact, communication guidance as part of an overall COVID-19 policy and procedure document shared with all employees may help minimize issues.
The EEOC answers a couple of questions about employer/employee communications at
“. . . If an employer wishes to ask only a particular employee to answer such questions [designed to determine if the employee has COVID-19], or to have her temperature taken or undergo other screening or testing, the ADA requires the employer to have a reasonable belief based on objective evidence that this person might have the disease. . . .”
“. . .The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) prohibits employers from asking employees medical questions about family members [such as if family members have COVID-19 symptoms]. GINA, however, does not prohibit an employer from asking employees whether they have had contact with anyone diagnosed with COVID-19 or who may have symptoms associated with the disease. Moreover, from a public health perspective, only asking an employee about his contact with family members would unnecessarily limit the information obtained about an employee’s potential exposure to COVID-19.”
Taking proactive steps to keep workplace communication professional, civil and appropriate can help an organization run smoothly.