Enough already! Over the past two years, the COVID-19 pandemic has triggered some of the most significant cultural shifts in decades. Employers have had to radically adjust workplace practices with new policies and an endless variety of federal, state and local requirements.

Now the world is seeing a yet another outbreak with the distinctive name of “monkeypox.” On July 23, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared monkeypox a public health emergency – the organization’s highest warning. The U.S. soon followed in August declaring monkeypox a public health emergency. The arrival of yet another outbreak is a graphic reminder that employers should have policies in place to address contagious diseases so work operations avoid disruption.

What is monkeypox?
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), monkeypox is a rare disease caused by infection with the monkeypox virus, part of the same family as smallpox. Symptoms are akin to smallpox but milder and rarely fatal. Unlike COVID-19, monkeypox spreads through direct contact. The CDC also states it can spread during “prolonged, face-to-face contact or during intimate physical contact.” Monkeypox is contagious from the moment symptoms start until the bumps have healed.

Is monkeypox as disruptive as COVID-19?
Thankfully, monkeypox appears unlikely to spread quickly due to the requirement of direct contact.

How should employers prepare?
The CDC recommends routine cleaning of common surfaces. In addition, employees should be encouraged to wash their hands frequently “with soap and water or hand sanitizer,” a habit we’ve found hard to break since COVID-19. Employers may also want to encourage vaccination.

What if an employee tests positive?
If an employee tests positive or exhibits symptoms, they should immediately leave the workplace, isolate themselves and contact their doctor. The CDC recommends infected individuals should isolate until their rash has healed and all scabs have fallen off. According to WHO, this process can take two to four weeks. Unlike the difficult days of COVID-19, it seems unlikely employers will need to shut down operations due to monkeypox.

Is leave required?
There are no monkeypox leave requirements at the federal level. An employee who tests positive or needs to quarantine may be entitled to leave under state or local laws and the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). For employers who offer COVID-19 isolation or quarantine leave, it may be appropriate to expand those policies to accommodate the recovery time associated with monkeypox. Employers should be mindful of requirements under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Should employees be told of positive cases?
Akin to COVID-19, an employer may inform employees there was a positive case of monkeypox but should not disclose the employee’s identity. Consulting with legal counsel is recommended. Employees who were in close contact should seek testing and consider vaccination. Please note, the ADA requires employee medical information be kept confidential. The confidentiality applied to COVID-19 should be the same for monkeypox.

What else?
Isn’t that enough? Seriously, employers should consider updating their policies to include the company’s response to contagious disease. Good communication never hurts when explaining to employees the details of monkeypox, best practices and the company’s plan. An organized and strategic approach will lay a helpful foundation should another contagious disease arise in the future.

The information and opinions expressed are for education purposes only and are based on current practice, industry related knowledge and business expertise. The information provided shall not be construed as legal advice, express or implied.