March 19, 2020

Senator Hassan Leads Group of Colleagues in Urging Department of Labor to Provide Support for Workers Who Experience Disabilities During COVID-19 Pandemic

WASHINGTON – Senator Maggie Hassan, a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, led a group of her colleagues in urging the Department of Labor to better support workers who experience disabilities and who may be at particular risk as a result of COVID-19. The letter was also signed by Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Patty Murray (D-WA), Bob Casey (D-PA), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Jack Reed (D-RI), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), and Chris Murphy (D-CT).

“We write to request more information about how the Department of Labor (the Department) is preparing for and responding to the spread of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) in the United States and how it impacts workers who experience disabilities, including those who are immunocompromised,” the senators wrote. “During this time, federal agencies must make evidence-based decisions and clearly communicate with the public in a timely way to protect Americans, especially those who may face unique risks and challenges as a result of this virus.”

 

The senators made clear in their letter that individuals who experience disabilities can be at higher risk for complications stemming from COVID-19, and that these workers have rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act to access reasonable accommodations that can help protect their health and the right tools to work remotely if needed.

 

The senators ask the Department of Labor for details on what it is doing to ensure that individuals who experience disabilities know their rights as it pertains to the Americans with Disabilities Act so that they can receive proper medical attention and support without worrying that it will impact their employment. The letter also asks for details on the Department of Labor’s communication with employers to ensure that they are following the requirements under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

 

To read the text of the letter, click here or see below:

 

The Honorable Eugene Scalia

Secretary of Labor

U.S. Department of Labor

200 Constitution Ave, NW

Washington, DC 20210

 

Dear Secretary Scalia:

 

We write to request more information about how the Department of Labor (the Department) is preparing for and responding to the spread of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) in the United States and how it impacts workers who experience disabilities, including those who are immunocompromised. During this time, federal agencies must make evidence-based decisions and clearly communicate with the public in a timely way to protect Americans, especially those who may face unique risks and challenges as a result of this virus.

 

Many individuals who experience disabilities may be at a greater risk for serious complications from COVID-19. In light of this, workers with disabilities may seek to work remotely or access leave time before the virus is present in their communities. Additionally, workers who experience disabilities may seek additional accommodations for their health needs that may include reduced work schedules to accommodate more frequent visits to or consultations with health care providers, additional technology needed to be able to work remotely, support for mental health needs due to increased anxiety, or additional cleaning procedures to maintain a safe workplace for their protection. These workers have rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) that protect them from workplace discrimination and require that they have access to reasonable accommodations. During the COVID-19 outbreak, it is especially important for workers and employers to understand these rights.

 

It is critical that experts across federal agencies work together to disseminate scientific and fact- based information to the public as decisions are made in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. In order to understand more about the Department’s efforts to support workers who experience disabilities and to provide employers with appropriate guidance, we request a response to the following questions no later than March 26, 2020:

 

  1. What guidance is being provided to workers on their rights under the ADA and the importance of understanding their rights to request and access necessary accommodations during the COVID-19 outbreak?

 

  1. What additional guidance is being provided to employers on workers’ rights under the ADA and their obligations to provide accommodations to workers during the COVID-19 outbreak?

 

  1. What guidance is being provided to workers and employers regarding disability disclosure and the rights of workers to maintain privacy regarding their disability and health status, other than necessary disclosure when requesting accommodations?

 

  1. Is the Department providing guidance with best practices on how to support workers who experience disabilities when working remotely and how to provide accommodations in their remote work locations?

 

  1. What guidance is being provided to employers regarding additional family and medical leave for workers with disabilities and for family members who may need to stay home to care for children who experience disabilities, in particular those who are immunocompromised?

 

  1. What steps is the Department taking with respect to its own employees or contractors with disabilities to inform them of their rights and access to accommodations during the COVID-19 outbreak?

 

  1. What steps has the Department taken to coordinate with the Office of Personnel Management to ensure that federal employees who experience disabilities across the federal government are aware of their rights and to ensure that agencies and contractors are aware of their responsibilities under the ADA?

 

It is important that workers who experience disabilities have accurate information about their rights and receive necessary accommodations from their employers as our country responds to the spread of COVID-19. We appreciate your attention to this matter.

 

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