The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the recent outbreak of monkeypox to be a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.
Because of the difference in how monkeypox is understood to spread, there may be less immediate concern about most workplaces at this time (with the exception of healthcare). At this time, neither the CDC nor OSHA have issued any workplace rules or guidances with regard to monkeypox (other than healthcare). However, employers may want to consider some proactive steps now. At a basic level, employers should educate themselves with a general understanding of what monkeypox is, how it spreads, its symptoms, and recovery. The WHO has said that monkeypox virus is transmitted through close contact with another infected person, through contaminated materials, or through an infected animal. In terms of transmission between people, this appears to require actual physical contact, although possible transmission by air has not been ruled out. The WHO says that the incubation period for monkeypox can last up to 21 days. There does not appear to be a clear understanding at this point about whether people with monkeypox who are asymptomatic can still be spreading the disease during the asymptomatic period. The illness can last from two to four weeks after a positive infection.
Given that this disease could impact workplaces in ways similar to COVID, employers should consider amending or adding to current workplace policies to remind employees that, just as with COVID, certain precautions should be taken, which might include the following:
1) employees should self-monitor for monkeypox symptoms;
2) an employee who has monkeypox symptoms should seek medical care;
3) an employee who has symptoms that might suggest monkeypox or who is diagnosed with monkeypox should not come to work;
4) an employee who has had close contact with someone who has been diagnosed with monkeypox or been in a contaminated environment should monitor themselves closely for monkeypox symptoms for the 21-day incubation period (this remains unclear because it is not clear whether the disease can be spread while asymptomatic).
In terms of leave time for someone who has exposure, symptoms or a diagnosis, employees should be permitted to use available accrued time, including EPL leave. In addition, depending on the symptoms and severity of the condition, eligible employees may be entitled to FMLA time or even leave under the ADA/MHRA if the conditions worsens to the point of a disability.
It is too early in the situation to determine whether vaccinations will be an issue as they were with COVID. The information from WHO is that because monkeypox is genetically similar to smallpox, the smallpox vaccine may be effective to protect against it. The CDC is recommending vaccination for people exposed to monkeypox and those at higher risk of exposure, including some designated healthcare or public health workers and laboratory workers who work with orthopoxviruses. For now, though, most of the issues that were raised as part of the COVID vaccination issue are on hold for monkeypox.
In the event this becomes more of a workplace issue/concern, we will continue to provide updates and relevant information.
Anne-Marie Storey, Esq.