The COVID-19 pandemic is a worldwide crisis of epic proportions. It has created enormous challenges, some of which are apparent, such as health and economic impacts that are without equal in our lifetimes. More challenges undoubtedly await us, some of which we may not even imagine. On the other hand, the crisis may present opportunities for us to learn and to improve in our personal and professional lives.
"The Chinese use two brush strokes to write the word 'crisis.' One brush stroke stands for danger; the other for opportunity. In a crisis, be aware of the danger - but recognize the opportunity." - John F. Kennedy
President Kennedy may have exercised some poetic license in that quote, but it serves as a useful rhetorical device here. In short, out of a crisis can come opportunities.
The COVID-19 coronavirus doesn't discriminate between men and women, but the same can't be said of the pandemic's impact on the U.S. workforce.
Traditional support for women at work has been drastically reduced, if not eliminated, during the crisis. Women have had to reorient to working from home while balancing family responsibilities, including childcare and home schooling. Admittedly, both male and female parents have had to face these challenges, but women have shouldered a disproportionate share of the burden.
As state and local economies reopen, employers across the country are cautiously welcoming employees back to their jobs, fearing a resurgence of the COVID-19 outbreak. For returning workers, the workplace will be different from before, including the extent to which their privacy will be protected, especially medical and health information.
To assist employers and employees in navigating these uncertain waters, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has issued guidance clarifying their respective rights and obligations. We have streamlined two EEOC publications - What You Should Know About COVID-19 and the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act, and Other EEO Laws and Pandemic Preparedness in the Workplace and the Americans with Disabilities Act - into a set of useful FAQs.
In recent weeks, the White House released guidelines for reopening the nation's economy, largely punting to state and local officials to assess whether they are sufficiently prepared to stay ahead of the COVID-19 spread and when to reopen non-essential businesses. In anticipation of bringing employees back to the workplace, the administration has also instructed employers to "develop and implement appropriate policies" to keep workers and patrons safe from contagion. That may be easier said than done.
A majority of states have unveiled return-to-work plans, with some jurisdictions adopting a more incremental approach and others seeming to reopen with free abandon. As states begin to allow certain businesses to reopen, several questions have emerged about the monitoring of coronavirus-related illness and other issues, and the extent to which the equal employment opportunity laws, particularly the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), are implicated.
The only way for employees to protect their privacy in the "new normal" workplace is to understand the regulatory requirements imposed on their employers, and the information employers may - and may not - request.
With the rapid advance of technologies that enable constant connectivity, the once-sharp line between home and work began to blur over the last decade. Laws that govern employees' privacy rights were already lagging behind this reality when the COVID-19 coronavirus hit, and workplaces worldwide were suddenly converted into remote workplaces overnight.
While it could appear that working from home provides more privacy for employees (as seen by memes showing employees working in bed, day drinking, and otherwise slacking off), employers can invade privacy in the remote workplace more easily and less obviously, presenting risks for both employees and employers.
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced much of the American workforce online, where employers are making use of a variety of platforms to facilitate remote work. Some of these platforms involve video recording or access by fingerprint, face scan, or retina or iris scan, which may result in the capture and storage of sensitive biometric information. As workplaces reopen, there may will likely be an uptick in the collection of biometric data as employers turn symptom screening technologies that collect biometric data, such as contactless thermometers that identify particular employees through facial recognition technology, and look tofacial recognition and retina or iris scanning technologies to facilitate contactless security access.
If you work in Illinois, your employer must comply with the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA) when collecting and storing sensitive biometric information. Should your employer fail to do so, you may have a legal claim for invasion of privacy.
Even before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, California businesses braced for the significant impact that the new California Consumer Protection Act (CCPA) would have on their operations. This far-reaching and the first consumer protection law of its kind in the country provides consumers rights associated with how businesses collect and use their data. The law, which took effect on January 1, 2020, was pushed by consumer privacy advocates after a series of data security breaches, like the 2014 hack of Sony associated with the release of its film "The Interview," which exposed its employees' emails and personally identifiable information.
As the COVID-19 coronavirus crisis continues, many companies have arranged for significant portions of their workforce to perform their jobs remotely. The physical delineation between work and home has been blurred, and videoconferencing tools to virtually connect with coworkers and clients are a fact of work and home life. Unfortunately, giving managers and colleagues glimpses into your private world, images, messages, and even people in the background can lead to discrimination, harassment, and adverse treatment.
Much has been asked of the doctors, nurses, and other healthcare workers fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. Our Executives & Professionals Practice Group is proud to represent several of them, and we owe all the frontline heroes and first responders our deepest gratitude - especially when hospitals that are short on staff and protective gear assign them new job duties to address patient needs. The irony is that when healthcare workers are deployed and redeployed where they are needed most, employers may limit those workers' rights and the ability to safeguard their health and their family members' well-being .