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Monkeypox: What We Know & Employer Considerations

On July 23, 2022, the World Health Organization declared the ongoing monkeypox outbreak a “Public Health Emergency of International Concern.” Multiple other jurisdictions swiftly followed suit, including New York which declared a disaster emergency on July 29, 2022. As of the date of this publication, there are no employer health and safety requirements specific to monkeypox at the federal or state levels. Nevertheless, as part of their obligation to maintain a workplace free from recognized hazards under OSHA’s General Duty Clause, employers should monitor the monkeypox public health emergency closely.

About Monkeypox and How it Spreads

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Monkeypox is a rare disease caused by infection with the monkeypox virus. Monkeypox virus is part of the same family of viruses as variola virus, the virus that causes smallpox. Monkeypox symptoms are similar to smallpox symptoms, but milder, and monkeypox is rarely fatal. Monkeypox is not related to chickenpox. Symptoms of monkeypox can include:

  • Rashes, bumps, or blisters on or around the genitals or in other areas like the hands, feet, chest, or face.
  • Flu-like symptoms, such as fever, headache, muscle aches, chills, and fatigue; these symptoms may occur before or after the rash appears, or not at all.

According to the CDC, monkeypox can spread to anyone through close, personal, often skin-to-skin contact. A person with monkeypox can spread it to others from the time symptoms start until the rash has fully healed and a fresh layer of skin has formed. The illness typically lasts two to four weeks. According to the CDC, most people with monkeypox during the 2022 global outbreak have been adults and have not required hospitalization. Deaths have occurred but are rare and have occurred in individuals with underlying conditions. Young children (<8 years of age), individuals who are pregnant or immunocompromised, and individuals with history of atopic dermatitis or eczema may be at especially increased risk for severe outcomes from monkeypox disease.

How should an employer respond if an employee indicates they or a close personal contact may have been exposed or contracted monkeypox?

  • Employees who believe they may have been exposed or who experience symptoms consistent with monkeypox (such as characteristic rashes or lesion) should not report to the workplace and contact their health care provider for a risk assessment.
  • Direct employees to follow the quarantine or isolation requirements issued by their health care provider and/or public health authorities. (The CDC recommends that people with monkeypox remain isolated for the duration of the illness).
  • Employers should conduct an immediate deep clean of any affected employee’s workspace.
  • If an employee is confirmed to be infected, ask if they have had close personal contact with another employee in the last four weeks.
  • Communicate the confirmed case appropriately within the workplace on a business need-to-know basis, while maintaining confidentiality to the extent possible.
  • Inform the employee that any medical information shared will be kept confidential in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
  • Inform the employee of any applicable leave protections and/or wage replacement benefits that may apply to their situation.

Leave Protections and Wage Replacement Benefits

Depending on specific facts and circumstances, employees may have a variety of job-protected leaves and/or wage replacement benefits available to them as a result of monkeypox. These may include but are not limited to state sick leave provisions, disability leave and/or insurance benefits, paid family leave benefits to care for a covered family member with monkeypox, unpaid federal family and medical leave (FMLA) if it rises to the level of a serious health condition, and/or leave as an accommodation under the ADA.

Discrimination and Harassment Implications

According to the CDC, among U.S. monkeypox cases with available data, certain populations are disproportionately affected by the disease based on gender, sexual orientation, race, and ethnicity. However, anyone who has been in close, personal contact with someone who has monkeypox can be at risk, regardless of their actual or perceived membership in certain legally protected classes. Employers should use inclusive, non-stigmatizing language if communicating with their workforce about monkeypox and remain vigilant that their non-harassment and non-discrimination policies are upheld in light of the outbreak.

Next Steps for Employers

Employers should educate themselves about monkeypox and be prepared to provide accurate information and resources on the disease to employees that inquire.

Employers should review their infectious disease policies and procedures and prepare to promptly apply them in the event of possible monkeypox cases in their workplace or in response to any directives from public health authorities. As mentioned, as of the date of this publication, there are no employer health and safety requirements specific to monkeypox at the federal or state levels.

HR Works will continue to monitor the monkeypox outbreak and provide any relevant updates as needed.

HR Works, headquartered in Upstate New York, is a human resource management outsourcing and consulting firm serving clients throughout the United States for over thirty years. HR Works provides scalable strategic human resource management and consulting services, including: affirmative action programs; benefits administration outsourcing; HRIS self-service technology; full-time, part-time and interim on-site HR managers; HR audits; legally reviewed employee handbooks and supervisor manuals; talent management and recruiting services; and training of managers and HR professionals.