SHRM Webcast: Compliance Tips from the EEOC Chair

Nancy Cleeland By Nancy Cleeland June 26, 2020
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SHRM Webcast: Compliance Tips from the EEOC Chair

​As they establish new policies and practices for the coronavirus age—from taking employee temperatures to requiring face masks—employers must be careful to comply with anti-discrimination and medical records laws and to offer accommodations when appropriate.

Janet Dhillon, chair of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), answered common questions on these topics and more during a webcast conversation airing today with Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP, president and chief executive officer of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).

Her one caveat: EEOC guidance is continuing to evolve over time as health officials learn more about COVID-19 and as new treatment and preventive measures are developed. "The guidance we're receiving [from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] is evolving as they learn more, so, as a result, employers' responses are going to evolve as well."

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Coronavirus and COVID-19

For example, the commission has yet to offer guidance on whether employers can require employees to get a COVID-19 vaccine once one becomes available. "We get that question a lot," Dhillon said in response to a question from Taylor. "Like you, we hope that there's going to be a vaccine and that it's coming soon. We are going to issue some form of guidance soon. We are working on it now."

In a wide-ranging discussion that covered contact tracing, antibody tests, age discrimination and employee fears of infecting vulnerable loved ones at home, Dhillon conceded that many seemingly simple questions have complex answers. Take the issue of cloth face masks, which are recommended to prevent infected people, including those without symptoms, from infecting others.

"An employer can require employees to wear masks, but I would encourage employers to think about the consequences. What if an employee refused to wear one? The employer has to think about the response it will take," she said. And if an employee claims to have a disability that prevents him or her from wearing a mask, "an employer needs to engage in the interactive process to see if there is a reasonable accommodation" such as a modified mask or face shield. 

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