Within days of our Feb. 11 post, three new cases of the Zika virus were confirmed in Florida, bringing the total to 24. Health authorities stress that all incidences were related to travel, none of the patients contracted the virus in Florida, and no pregnant women are among the infected. The numbers may be increasing, but the trend is not expected to last: According to ABC News, the World Health Organization believes that new infections will be "way down" before the Olympics open in Rio de Janeiro in August.
The prediction does not take the pressure off employers to protect their workers, especially their pregnant workers, from on-the-job infection. Travel companies like Carnival Cruise Lines were the first to respond, allowing employees to adjust their schedules to avoid ports-of-call in countries with higher rates of Zika infection.
Other companies have either not been as flexible or have not made their policy changes public. Without a policy in place, though, employees whose jobs require travel to any of the 33 countries (so far) where Zika may have few alternatives to accepting the assignment.
It would help immensely if the U.S. Department of State or the World Health Organization would officially recommend against travel to these areas. At the moment, though, the only nation-wide alert comes from the CDC in the form of a recommendation that travelers be equipped with plenty of insect repellent and mosquito nets. These precautionary measures may be enough of a shield for employers, though, that an employee's refusal to travel could still cost him his job.
What legal recourse do employees have? We'll explain more in our next post.
Source: Business Insurance, "Lawyers see limited legal options for workers sent in Zika's way," Thomson Reuters, Feb. 8, 2016
If you are traveling in the next few days, check the CDC's Zika Travel Information website for updates on the spread of the virus.