CBS 58 Investigates: Labor rights in pandemic
MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) – Every day we learn more people are sickened with coronavirus. They may be colleagues, public servant, even politicians. But when workers get sick, how do companies handle that information? CBS 58 Investigates found rules around workplace privacy have been loosened because of the pandemic.
The news came quickly. A Milwaukee County Elections worker is infected. Workers tested positive at Harley Davidson and Snap On. What are those employees allowed to know?
“The Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has relaxed some of those rules,” said labor and employment attorney Erick Eisenmann.
Federal guidance allows employers to be a bit nosier about their workers’ health. If an employee calls in sick, the company can ask what their symptoms are.
“For instance, the employer can ask whether an employee has been experiencing symptoms that are consistent with COVIC-19,” said Eisenmann.
Employers could implement temperature screenings for their employees to pass now as a condition of coming to work. But if someone gets infected with coronavirus, a company is still bound to keep that information somewhat private.
“They should not identify that specific employee,” said Eisenmann.
Companies will likely tell people in the same department or others they may have been exposed without naming the person. Employees can give their bosses permission to name them. But that may be little comfort to other workers, who may decide its too dangerous to come into work.
“That’s a gray area, depending on the circumstances, and employee might be able to legitimately make that position,” said Eisenmann.
Employers can respond saying they’ve deep cleaned, or isolated sick workers. There’s some push and pull. That’s why health officials stress sick people should stay home.
If Wisconsin issued a shelter in place order many workers still going into work would stop if their job was considered non-essential. Governor Tony Evers said Friday he doesn’t believe that type of order is necessary.