On March 27, 2020, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) posted a pre-recorded webinar called “Ask the EEOC” on its website. The purpose of the webinar was to answer COVID-19 workplace questions arising under the federal employment discrimination laws the EEOC enforces. Prior to recording the webinar, and in an effort to ensure that the information provided was relevant to common COVID-19 workplace concerns, the EEOC welcomed public submission of questions. The EEOC reported that “almost 500” questions were submitted. Reed Smith submitted 21 questions, all of which had subparts, designed to gain insight on practical questions likely to be of interest to our employer client base. In the 42-minute webinar, 22 questions were answered by three EEOC representatives: Carol Miaskoff, Associate Legal Counsel of EEOC; Sharon Rennert, Senior Attorney Advisor for ADA and GINA; and Jeanne Goldberg, Acting Assistant Legal Counsel for ADA and GINA.
For the most part, the ground covered during the webinar is familiar to compliance-minded employers generally aware of their EEO obligations. A few questions posed and answered by the EEOC generated useful practical guidance. But one simply worded and powerful question – Is COVID-19 a disability under the ADA? – prompted a surprising “that is unclear at this time” answer from the EEOC.
For purposes of this summary, we selected the five questions posed and answered by the EEOC that we believe are of most interest to employers. Those five are Questions 2, 4, 8, 16, and 21. For each of the five, we provide below the question as posed by the EEOC, a summary of its answer during the webinar, and our commentary.