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Monkeypox: Employer considerations

Monkeypox virus testing

The World Health Organization has declared monkeypox to be a health emergency, and several U.S. states have followed suit.

Monkeypox is not expected to reach pandemic levels, but employers may wish to review their infectious disease and other relevant workplace policies.

Some things to know:

Monkeypox transmission. First, monkeypox is a viral illness that is rarely fatal. Symptoms include fever, aches, headache, and a bumpy rash. Current scientific understanding is that monkeypox is transmitted through direct contact with an infectious rash, scabs, or bodily fluids.

Most commonly, monkeypox spreads through skin-to-skin contact and intimate partners are at highest risk. However, health officials say it’s also possible that the virus could spread through sharing dishes or by touching towels, bedding, or contaminated clothing.  Monkeypox is transmissible from the onset of symptoms until the rash has fully healed. The illness typically lasts two to four weeks.

Health and safety practices. Employers have a duty to maintain a hazard-free workplace. While the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has not yet provided guidance, employers should watch for any updates. Meanwhile, the CDC has provided recommendations, indicating that people should remain isolated at home while they have a fever and if respiratory symptoms are present.

If an infected person does not have a fever or respiratory symptoms, they are advised to cover any rash with clothing, gloves, or bandages; wear a well-fitting mask; and avoid sharing communal items such as utensils.

Review safety practices. Employers should consider how to decrease the spread of the virus in the workplace. That may include precautions similar to COVID-19, such as routine cleaning of high-touch surfaces and providing disinfectant wipes.

Review policies. As with COVID-19, one of the most effective ways to stop the spread of the virus is to keep employees home when they’re sick. Accordingly, employers may wish to review their sick leave policies and implement discretionary programs.

Meanwhile, remember that employees who contract monkeypox may be entitled to accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act and/or job-protected leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act.

Keep confidentiality in mind. As always, employers need to exercise caution when asking employees about symptoms, vaccination status, or diagnosis. Employers need to keep medical information confidential and separate from an employee’s standard personnel file.

Watch for discrimination. Finally, watch for stigma associated with monkeypox. The virus is endemic in certain African nations, and current statistics indicate a higher likelihood of infection among men who have sex with men. Employers should stay alert for discrimination or harassment. Be careful not to single employees out as higher risk and investigate any complaints promptly.