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The Occupational Safety and Health Administration aims to publish interim guidance on protecting workers from occupational exposure to the Zika virus this spring.
“Coming soon to a federal office near you is the Zika virus, and we're quite concerned about it,” David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health, said during a meeting of the Federal Advisory Council on Occupational Safety and Health on Thursday in Washington. “There's growing concern across the federal government. We've heard from a bunch of agencies about the Zika virus. We're developing interim guidance for protecting workers for you all to use, both for your workers who go overseas, but also we're seeing the first cases in the United States, and we have to be prepared for that as well.”
Agency officials are reviewing a preliminary draft and soliciting feedback from other federal agencies, but hope to publish the guidance this spring, he said.
OSHA published similar guidance last year in response to the Ebola outbreak, with requirements and recommendations for protecting workers whose work activities are conducted in environments known or reasonably suspected to be contaminated with the virus.
Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act, employees may refuse to work only where there is an objectively “reasonable belief that there is imminent death or serious injury,” according to an alert published by Ben Huggett of Littler Mendelson P.C. on Jan. 29. Refusing to work without such an objective belief may result in disciplinary action, but he advised employers to take extreme care to avoid adverse employment actions due to a refusal to work caused by concerns about Zika.
(Reuters) — Employees of U.S. companies seeking to avoid exposure to the Zika virus likely have few legal avenues to either refuse travel to affected areas or sue if they actually become sick from the virus. But it may be a different story if such workers subsequently give birth to Zika-infected babies.