As the COVID-19 threat seems to be declining, monkeypox has emerged as the newest workplace threat. The CDC has been tracking an outbreak of monkeypox that has spread across several countries that do not normally report monkeypox, including the United States. This news may have employers on the edge of their seats wondering what this means for their workplace.
What do employers need to know about monkeypox?
According to the CDC, monkeypox is a rare disease caused by infection with the monkeypox virus. Monkeypox symptoms are like smallpox symptoms, but milder, and monkeypox is rarely fatal. Monkeypox symptoms may last two to four weeks. Accordingly, the lengthy course of this illness is of particular concern for employers.
Current CDC guidance suggests symptoms usually start within three weeks of exposure and symptoms may include:
- Rash or blisters on the skin
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Muscle aches and backaches
- Respiratory symptoms (such as a sore throat, nasal congestion, or a cough)
Based on current CDC guidance, monkeypox can spread “through direct contact with the infectious rash, scabs, or bodily fluids” or by respiratory secretions following “prolonged, face-to-face contact, or during intimate physical contact.” Scientists are researching whether the virus can be spread by asymptomatic individuals, how often monkeypox is spread though respiratory secretion, and whether it can be spread through certain bodily fluids. Current CDC guidance also suggests monkeypox is not spread through brief conversations or by walking by an individual currently symptomatic with monkeypox. At present, two licensed vaccines are available to prevent smallpox and can provide protection against monkeypox.
Currently there is limited guidance for employers on how to handle monkeypox in the workplace. Neither the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) nor the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has released workplace guidance. While the CDC and WHO have guidance and resources regarding prevention and treatment, neither agency has issued general workplace guidance for employers at this time.
Although there are many unknowns, employers should be prepared to manage certain issues and answer employee questions on monkeypox. These include workplace health and safety protocols, paid sick leave or other leave, considerations for employee testing, vaccination, isolation, recovery, remote work and other flexible work policies, confidentiality of employee medical information under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and potential discrimination concerns. If you need help navigating the legal complexities of employment law, contact Goosmann Law Firm at 855-909-4442.