The impact of the Zika virus has become a serious concern, and California employees who deal with international travel may be unsure of their rights as they face upcoming assignments or trips. Employers may also worry about the impact of the virus as they send workers to areas that are dealing with Zika outbreaks. While the main focus might be to protect the health of workers and the legal interests of a company, some employer actions could actually violate employee rights in some cases.
Because Zika is reportedly causing serious deformities and health problems in babies born to women who have been infected with the virus, an employer might want to restrict travel to such regions for any pregnant employees. However, restricting only women could be construed as discrimination. Because there have been instances of transmission of the virus through sexual contact, a man contracting the virus while traveling could equally be impacted by spreading the disease to a partner who is pregnant or who plans to become pregnant. Policies should equally apply to men and women.
A company should inform its workers of the potential risks for traveling into areas affected by Zika. Education about the virus and appropriate preventive measures should be provided not only to those who might travel in at-risk areas but also to those who are already in such locations. Decisions to relocate should be left up to the employees who are affected. Additionally, an employee who refuses work in such a location based on the belief that there is a serious risk should not be penalized.
An employee dealing with questions about their reproductive plans because of a health risk might perceive that the employer is simply expressing concern for their well-being. However, many employment attorneys believe that this type of questioning could also be an example of prohibited workplace discrimination under certain circumstances.