If you live and work in California, the threat of the Zika virus may seem remote. However, more and more cases are being diagnosed across the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Many of these cases result from mosquito bites while traveling to affected parts of the world. In addition, many people do not demonstrate obvious symptoms of Zika and could be carriers without realizing it and may sexually transmit the virus. The true threat of Zika is the ability of a woman to pass the virus to a fetus, thereby causing severe and often fatal brain damage to the child.

As a small business owner, if you have any employees, you should be aware that there are guidelines for how to address Zika in the workplace, both regarding workplace safety and anti-discrimination principles.

Health and Safety Guidelines

Even if you do not believe that mosquitoes in and around your workplace are not passing around Zika, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recommends that you ensure that any employees working outside take proper precautions. You should make sure your employees have adequate repellant and other gear to prevent mosquito bites whenever possible. You should also rid your business premises of any standing water to prevent mosquitoes from breeding nearby.

In addition, you should realize that Zika may be a particular concern for the following employees:

  • Women of childbearing age who may become pregnant;
  • Women who are currently pregnant;
  • Men who are having sexual relations with a woman who is pregnant or who may become pregnant.

If any of the above employees request to work inside or to postpone work-related travel to certain parts of the world, you should consider accommodating their requests due to Zika concerns.

Anti-Discrimination Rules

While you should be aware of the risks of Zika among pregnant women or women of childbearing age, you cannot single them out in the workplace – even out of concern. If you allow other employees to travel for work but prohibit travel for women, you could be accused of unlawful discrimination based on sex or pregnancy.

In addition, employers do not have the right to demand medical information regarding Zika from employees. Even if an employee has come back from a trip to an affected part of the world, OSHA has indicated that Zika is not a big enough danger in the workplace to warrant intrusive questioning or demands for information regarding a diagnosis or medical records. If you do so, you may face legal liability or disputes from employees.

Discuss Your Situation with a California Small Business Attorney Today

ZIka is only one example of how the trends of our society can affect your small business and require compliance with guidelines and rules of which you may not even be aware. This is only one reason why is it wise to have the assistance of an experienced small business lawyer to provide guidance and advice on any legal matters that may arise. Please do not hesitate to call Kalia Law, PC today for more information about our small business services.

- Claire Kalia

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