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Businesses allowed to legally ask employees about potential exposure to COVID-19 if it helps keep workplace, customers safe

Posted at 1:11 PM, Dec 08, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-08 16:11:55-05

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - When it comes to time off, managers can ask questions to an extent in order to confirm an employee is following CDC and local health mandates.

Businesses are legally allowed to ask employees about potential exposure to COVID-19 if it helps keep the workplace or customers safe.

Attorney Rebecca Demaree said if an employer does not treat every employee the same way, they may find themselves in hot water.

"Should you ask 'well, if you're going to that protest activity, we're going to make your self isolate for 14 days because we know there are going to be a large number of individuals,' and then you take a similarly situated employee who says 'at Christmas I'll be with 20 of my relatives,' and you don't treat them the same way, the question could be are you doing that because you're trying to stifle a protest or a First Amendment activity?" said Rebecca Demaree.

Demaree counsels companies on labor and employment law. She said health screenings when employees return to work after time off make sense in most high-contact industries.

"That's going to be important for the employers to keep customers and fellow employees safe," Demaree said.

Demaree advises a good questionnaire doesn't include questions that can make an employee feel singled out.

"They're not questions about 'who were you with?' 'Where were you?' What were you doing exactly?' But they are more designed to lead to those questions if more information is warranted," she said.

Additionally, friends and families should not compare their return to work processes because different industries are doing it differently.

New questions are also likely to be asked in 2021 when vaccines are available. Some employers may be able to require workers to get the shots.

This story was first reported by Hannah McDonald at WTVF in Nashville, Tennessee.