What are an employer’s obligations towards employees when they discover that one employee has a highly contagious and potentially deadly infection?

UPDATED: Sep 30, 2022

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What are an employer’s obligations towards employees when they discover that one employee has a highly contagious and potentially deadly infection?

It has become known that one employee has contracted MRSA. A highly

contagious and occasionally deadly disease, according to the CDC. The

employee who has this is treating with antibiotics but not informing most of his fellow employees. Including those with whom he comes into contact on a

regular basis. What responsibility does the infected employee have and what

responsibility does the employer have to protect other employees from

becoming infected?

Asked on September 16, 2016 under Employment Labor Law, Washington


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 6 years ago | Contributor

An employer is not a public health agency: they are not required to isolate, suspend, terminate, or (of course) administer health care to an employee who is sick with something contagious. That said, IF they are aware of the illness and IF someone at work becomes sick with it *after* the employer becomes aware, and IF the sickness of the 2nd employee can be provably traced or linked to the illness of the 1st, THEN the employer could be liable for not having taken reasonable precautions (like sending home sick, putting on sick leave, suspending or furlouging), etc. They could in that case be sued for medical costs, lost wages, and, if significant and long-lasting disabiltiy, disfigurement, or life impairment results, some amount for "pain and suffering." To put it another way: the employer has no obligation to do anything prospectively to prevent infection or transmission, but could be held liable after the fact if anything bad happens. 
Similarly, a sick employee can't be stopped (except by order of some public health agency) from going into work, but if he or she knowingly exposes coworkers to disease and they get sick and are harmed, the sick employee could be sued.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The Answer(s) provided above are for general information only. The attorney providing the answer was not serving as the attorney for the person submitting the question or in any attorney-client relationship with such person. Laws may vary from state to state, and sometimes change. Tiny variations in the facts, or a fact not set forth in a question, often can change a legal outcome or an attorney's conclusion. Although AttorneyPages.com has verified the attorney was admitted to practice law in at least one jurisdiction, he or she may not be authorized to practice law in the jurisdiction referred to in the question, nor is he or she necessarily experienced in the area of the law involved. Unlike the information in the Answer(s) above, upon which you should NOT rely, for personal advice you can rely upon we suggest you retain an attorney to represent you.

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