Currently, state and local policymakers are adopting and implementing policies in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. This policy brief summarizes guidance issued by Federal Government agencies that can assist in ensuring state and local policy aligns with our nation’s civil rights laws and other disability-related policies.

These Federal Government agencies include the:                                                                      

Also included in this policy brief are resources developed by the Job Accommodation Network, Employer Assistance and Resource Network on Disability Inclusion, and Partnership on Employment and Accessible Technology.

The State Exchange on Employment & Disability (SEED), an initiative funded by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP), assists states in developing effective and inclusive workforce policies that promote disability employment. Recognizing that every state is unique, SEED offers policy options and resources states can tailor to meet their needs and goals. To this end, SEED partners with leading intermediary organizations that serve as trusted sources of information to state and local policymakers.


The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) released, “What You Should Know About COVID-19 and the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act, and Other EEO Laws,” which was last updated on September 8, 2020.

This resource addresses disability-related topics such as:

  • Disability-related inquiries and medical exams;
  • Confidentiality of medical information;
  • Hiring and onboarding;
  • Reasonable accommodation; and
  • Return to the workplace.

The guidance also addresses what an employer should know about COVID-19 and other equal employment opportunity laws such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the Age Discrimination and Employment Act, and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act.

More specifically, with respect to the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act, the guidance includes explanations relating to:

  • With respect to disability-related inquiries and medical exams:
    • Adopting screening protocols that are implemented consistent with advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and public health officials regarding whether, when, or for whom testing or other screening is appropriate;
    • Requesting information from an employee who calls in sick, taking body temperatures of employees, and permitting viral tests to determine if an applicant or employee has an active case of COVID-19; and
    • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Interim Guidelines, not allowing employers to require antibody testing before permitting employees to re-enter the workplace.
    • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and public health authorities for their workplace
    • With respect to disability-related inquiries and medical exams:
    • Adopting screening protocols that are implemented consistent with advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and public health officials regarding whether, when, or for whom testing or other screening is appropriate;
    • Requesting information from an employee who calls in sick, taking body temperatures of employees, and permitting viral tests to determine if an applicant or employee has an active case of COVID-19; and
    • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Interim Guidelines, not allowing employers to require antibody testing before permitting employees to re-enter the workplace.
    • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and public health authorities for their workplace.
  • With respect to confidentiality of medical information:
    • Maintaining all information about an employee’s illness related to COVID-19 as a confidential medical record; and
    • The fact that information related to COVID-19 is considered medical information does not prevent the manager from reporting to appropriate employer officials so that they can take action, consistent with guidance from CDC and other public health officials.
  • With respect to the provision of reasonable accommodations, examples (such as telework and modified protective gear) and explanations on how the ADA applies when an employer knows that an employee has a medical condition identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that might place him or her at “higher risk for severe illness” and is concerned that his or her health will be jeopardized upon returning to the workplace, but the employee has not requested an accommodation.
  • With respect to returning to the workplace, modifications or lifting of government stay-at-home orders and other restrictions in an employer’s area, inviting employees to request flexibility in advance of returning to the workplace, and employee screening (including alternative methods of screening) that is consistent with advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and public health authorities for their workplace.

Pandemic Preparedness and the ADA

The EEOC updated its resource, “Pandemic Preparedness in the Workplace and the Americans with Disabilities Act,” on March 21, 2020 in response to COVD-19. This guidance document provides background information on pandemics and ADA requirements and standards, and addresses topics such as disability-related inquiries and medical examinations; direct threat affirmative defense; and reasonable accommodations. The document also provides guidance for employers on requirements and restrictions before, during, and after a pandemic.

EEOC Webinar on COVID-19

On March 27, 2020, to supplement these documents, the EEOC posted a pre-recorded webinar addressing questions arising under any of the Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Laws and the COVID-19 pandemic. The video can be seen on YouTube. A transcript of the webinar is also available.

Additional Information

Additional information and updates from the EEOC are available on its Coronavirus and COVID-19 webpage.


People with Disabilities

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides guidance to people with disabilities through a dedicated webpage that identifies those who may be at increased risk of COVID-19, suggests precautions, and highlights several ways people with disabilities can prepare during the outbreak.

In addition, CDC issued the following guidance:

Employers and Businesses

CDC developed a Toolkit for Businesses and Workplaces (updated July 17, 2020). The Toolkit addresses frequently asked questions and provides guidance and planning documents, web resources, factsheets, and other resources.

On July 22, 2020, CDC updated SARS-CoV-2 Testing Strategy: Considerations for Non-Healthcare Workplaces. This document provides guidance on the appropriate use of testing and does not dictate the determination of payment decisions or insurance coverage of such testing, except as may be otherwise referenced (or prescribed) by another entity or federal or state agency.

On September 18, 2020, CDC updated Overview of Testing for SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19), which includes a summary of considerations and current CDC recommendations regarding SARS-CoV-2 testing. Due to the significance of asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic transmission, this updated guidance further reinforces the need to test asymptomatic persons, including close contacts of a person with documented SARS-CoV-2 infection.

On September 11, 2020, CDC updated guidance on Returning to Work, including considerations for returning to work and how to protect yourself and others in the workplace.

CDC issued specific guidance for employers titled Employers with Workers at High Risk, recognizing that as workplaces consider a gradual scale up of activities towards pre-COVID-19 operating practices, it is particularly important to keep in mind that some workers are at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19.

The CDC webpage, Resources for Businesses and Workplaces (updated September 2, 2020), includes three recorded conference calls, as well as guidance on deciding when to open, mitigation strategies, prevention and support, and more.

On October 21, 2020, CDC issued Investigating and Responding to COVID-19 Cases in Non-Healthcare Work Settings.

Healthcare Professionals

CDC’s Coronavirus Disease 2019 Information for Healthcare Professionals webpage (updated August 16, 2020) provides an overview of what healthcare providers should know about COVID-19, as well as answers to frequently asked questions. The resource also addresses more specific topics, such as guidance for healthcare providers on COVID-19 and pregnant women and those with underlying medical conditions; for public health personnel evaluating persons under investigation; for collection and submission of postmortem specimens; for clinical and home care; and more.

Health Care Professionals: Frequently Asked Questions (updated September 18, 2020) provides responses to questions asked by health care professionals, including recommendations on cleaning and disinfecting, visitation, animals, and more.

Using Telehealth Services (added June 10, 2020) describes the landscape of telehealth services and provide considerations for healthcare systems, practices, and providers using telehealth services to provide virtual care during and beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.

Interim U.S. Guidance for Risk Assessment and Work Restrictions for Healthcare Personnel with Potential Exposure to COVID-19 (added June 18, 2020) assists with assessment of risk, monitoring, and work restriction decisions for Healthcare Providers with potential exposure to COVID-19.

Interim Operational Considerations for Public Health Management of Healthcare Workers Exposed to or with Suspected or Confirmed COVID-19: Non-U.S. Healthcare Settings (added September 12, 2020) are intended to be used by healthcare facilities and public health authorities in non-US healthcare settings, particularly focusing on low- and middle-income countries, assisting with the management of healthcare workers exposed to a person with confirmed or suspected COVID-19.

Criteria for Return to Work for Healthcare Personnel with SARS-CoV-2 Infection (Interim Guidance) (updated August 10, 2020). Guidance for occupational health programs and public health officials making decisions about return to work for healthcare personnel with confirmed or suspected COVID-19.

Additional CDC Guidance

Additional information and guidance from CDC are available on its Coronavirus Disease 2019 webpage. This website lists all CDC guidance in chronological order.


The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) website includes a special section identifying Coronavirus Resources, including the following: 

Workplace Safety

DOL’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) offers resources to help employers and workers prepare for and respond to coronavirus in the workplace:

Wages, Hours and Leave

DOL’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD) provides information on common issues employers and workers face when responding to COVID-19, including the effects on wages and hours worked under the Fair Labor Standards Act and job-protected leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act.

On September 11, 2020, the WHD announced revisions to regulations that implement the paid sick leave and expanded family and medical leave provisions of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA). According to the WHD, the revised rule clarifies workers’ rights and employers’ responsibilities regarding FFCRA paid leave. The rule was issued in light of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York’s August 3, 2020, decision invalidating portions of the relevant regulations. The revisions allow WHD to enforce critical legal protections for millions of workers fully and fairly.

The Department issued its initial temporary rule implementing provisions under the FFCRA on April 1, 2020. Read the revised rule will take effect on September 16, 2020.

Additional guidance includes:

Unemployment Insurance Flexibilities

NOTE: Check with your state’s unemployment insurance program regarding the rules in your state.

On March 12, 2020, DOL’s Employment and Training Administration (ETA) announced new guidance outlining state flexibilities in administering their unemployment insurance programs to assist Americans affected by the COVID-19 outbreak.

Under the guidance, federal law permits significant flexibility for states to amend their laws to provide unemployment insurance benefits in multiple scenarios related to COVID-19. For example, federal law allows states to pay benefits where:

  • An employer temporarily ceases operations due to COVID-19, preventing employees from coming to work;
  • An individual is quarantined with the expectation of returning to work after the quarantine is over; and
  • An individual leaves employment due to a risk of exposure or infection or to care for a family member.

In addition, federal law does not require an employee to quit in order to receive benefits due to the impact of COVID-19.

Federal Contractors

On March 18, 2020, the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs issued a National Interest Exemption to facilitate response efforts for COVID-19 to facilitate response efforts for COVID-19.

Support for Dislocated Workers and States

On March 18, 2020, DOL’s ETA announced the availability of up to $100 million in National Health Emergency Dislocated Worker Grants to help states, territories, and tribal governments respond to the workforce-related impacts of COVID-19.

COVID-19 Quick Employment Tips

DOL released a series of “COVID-19 Quick Employment Tips” videos on May 1, 2020. The first is on supporting workers’ mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic and features the Employer Assistance and Resource Network on Disability Inclusion’s (EARN) Mental Health Toolkit. The second highlights resources and information on reasonable accommodations and COVID-19 from the Job Accommodation Network (JAN).

COVID-19 Quick Employment Tips: Mental Health

COVID-19 Quick Employment Tips: Reasonable Accommodations


Civil Rights and HIPAA

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Office for Civil Rights (OCR)  published a bulletin titled “Civil Rights, HIPAA, and the Coronavirus Disease 2019” on March 28, 2020 to help ensure that entities covered by civil rights authorities keep in mind their obligations under laws and regulations that prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, disability, age, sex, and exercise of conscience and religion in HHS-funded programs. The bulletin explains that persons with disabilities should not be denied medical care on the basis of stereotypes, assessments of quality of life, or judgments about a person’s relative “worth” based on the presence or absence of disabilities. Decisions by covered entities concerning whether an individual is a candidate for treatment should be based on an individualized assessment of the patient based on the best available objective medical evidence.

Additionally, government officials, health care providers, and covered entities should ensure all segments of the community are served by:

  • Providing effective communication with individuals who are deaf, hard of hearing, blind, and visually impaired using qualified interpreters, picture boards, and other means;
  • Providing meaningful access to programs and information to individuals with limited English proficiency using qualified interpreters and through other means;
  • Making emergency messaging available in plain language and in languages prevalent in the affected area(s) and in multiple formats, such as audio, large print, and captioning, and ensuring that websites providing emergency-related information are accessible;
  • Addressing the needs of individuals with disabilities, including individuals with mobility impairments, individuals who use assistive devices or durable medical equipment, and individuals with immunosuppressed conditions including HIV/AIDS in emergency planning; and
  • Respecting requests for religious accommodations in treatment and access to clergy or faith practices as practicable.

HHS’s OCR resolved two complaints involving COVID-19 rationing and the ADA (OCR press releases for resolutions to OCR complaints in AL, PA, TN, and UT). OCR also resolved a complaint in Connecticut involving visitation rights for persons with disabilities in hospitals who require support personnel.

In addition, HHS issued a document titled “Crisis Standard of Care and Civil Rights Laws.” This document highlights language from HHS’s OCR, National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM), the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and relevant laws that support the adherence to civil rights laws and disability rights laws in the application of Crisis Standards of Care during resource-constrained emergencies, such as the COVID-19 pandemic. On August 20, 2020, OCR resolved a case against Utah involving crisis standards of care.


The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) developed a Coronavirus (COVID-19) Partner Toolkit to help stakeholders stay informed on CMS and HHS materials available on the COVID-19. CMS also updated its COVID-19 Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) for State Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) Agencies (updated June 30, 2020).


The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued guidance on COVID-19 diagnostic testing about what may or may not be considered safe and accurate testing. In addition, FDA issued:


On April 9, 2020 the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) issued a Bulletin on civil rights titled, “Ensuring Civil Rights During the COVID-19 Response.” The Bulletin addresses topics such as:

  • Effective communication access;
  • Inclusive planning, response, and recovery;
  • Language and physical accessibility;
  • Civil rights complaints; and
  • Additional resources.

FEMA hosted a two-part webinar series on how to create effective, accessible communications throughout the disaster cycle:


The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Federal Transit Administration (FTA) has issued Frequently Asked Questions From FTA Grantees Regarding Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19), including specific questions regarding the application of the Americans with Disabilities Act.


The Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) Eric S. Dreiband issued a statement titled “Protecting Civil Rights While Responding to the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19).” The statement was issued to ensure that victims of illegal discrimination know where to turn if their civil rights are violated.


The Job Accommodation Network’s (JAN) Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) webpage highlights strategies that employers covered by the ADA should keep in mind when dealing with communicable diseases such as COVID-19 in the workplace.

Accommodation Strategies for Returning to Work During the COVID-19 Pandemic

JAN published a blog post “Accommodation Strategies for Returning to Work During the COCID-19 Pandemic.” In this blog, JAN offers general strategies for accommodating employees with disabilities to return to work during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The ADA and Reasonable Accommodations

JAN published a blog post, “The ADA and Managing Reasonable Accommodation Requests from Employees with Disabilities in Response to COVID-19” that addresses topics such as employer requirements around providing reasonable accommodations under the ADA in response to the pandemic coronavirus situation; who can receive reasonable accommodations under the ADA; and disability-related documentation for accommodation requests related to reducing risk of exposure to the coronavirus.

Stress and Mental Health Conditions

Another JAN blog post, “Coronavirus (COVID-19), Stress, and Mental Health Conditions,” recognizes that temporary accommodations may help all employees who are feeling increased stress and facing personal difficulties at this time, and provides information on the ADA and the coronavirus, and accommodation compliance.

Recent articles by JAN concerning COVID-19 and reasonable accommodations include:


In August 2020, The Employer Assistance and Resource Network on Disability Inclusion’s (EARN) developed a policy brief “COVID-19 and Job Applicants and Employees with Disabilities: Emerging Practices to Employ and Protect Workers.” The policy brief highlights emerging practices that employers may use as workers return to the workplace during and after the COVID-19 pandemic in ways that facilitate equal employment opportunity for qualified individuals with disabilities and protect the health and safety of all employees.

The EARN March/April Newsletter Special Edition on COVID-19 provides resources that can assist employers and others in understanding the intersection between the pandemic and disability employment policies and practices. 

On April 1, 2020, EARN hosted a webinar titled, “The ADA at Work: Considerations for COVID-19” to discuss balancing guidance on COVID-19 containment from CDC with EEOC guidance on the ADA. Guest experts from two regional ADA Centers presented on the implications of the pandemic on disability-related inquiries, medical examinations, and interpreting direct threat. Reasonable accommodations for telework, requests for which have spiked due to the required social distancing period, was also discussed.


The Partnership on Employment and Accessible Technology (PEAT) developed a webpage on Telework and Accessibility, which highlights resources to help equip employers with the information needed to ensure the digital workplace is accessible to everyone, including people with disabilities.

Telework and Accessibility

Many employers and employees have shifted to telework. PEAT developed a toolkit to help with the transition to ensure employers’ digital communications and platforms are as accessible as possible for everyone, including people with disabilities. This suite of resources offers information on creating accessible content, hosting accessible meetings and presentations, recruiting and hiring best practices, tips for teleworkers, and more.

Elections Security Quick Win Checklist

By Philippe Langlois, security engineer and author of the Verizon Data Breach Investigations Report

This blog is being posted in collaboration with efforts of The Council of State Governments Overseas Voting Initiative. It outlines cybersecurity recommendations and was originally published on “The Turnout” blog available here:

By now, cybersecurity isn’t a foreign concept to anyone working in the elections sector, especially as there’s been a welcome increase in resources, guidance, and new participants. Unfortunately, the deluge of advice from well-intended people isn’t necessarily easy for everyone to abide by while trying to get the final pieces ready for a big election. In a small effort to help elections officials get ready for the election, I’ve created a simple pre-election cybersecurity checklist to help prioritize some quick wins.

Continue reading “Elections Security Quick Win Checklist”

Election Results: What to Expect as Ballots are Counted

By Laura Hinkle, The Council of State Governments Fellow

The 2020 general election is on track to pull some of the largest voter turnout in decades, with many states already reporting record high numbers of absentee ballot requests and returns. Millions of Americans are deeply invested in this election cycle, and as Election Day draws closer, there will be immense pressure on journalists and major news outlets to deliver election results as quickly and accurately as possible. For over a century, there has been precedent for news outlets to report election results on election night. While the intention behind this practice is to inform the general public, this practice can be incredibly misleading because many Americans aren’t aware that the results reported on election night are never official.

Continue reading “Election Results: What to Expect as Ballots are Counted”

Accessible Telework: Strategies for Developing Inclusive State Agency Programs

By Elise Gurney, The Council of State Governments

Telework has increased substantially as a result of COVID-19. According to research reported by the National Bureau of Economic Research, about half of all employed Americans now work from home, including 35% of workers who switched to remote work during the pandemic. In response, many employers — including state government departments and agencies — are developing or revising their telework policies and programs. As they do, it’s critical that telework be accessible and usable to all employees, including those with disabilities. Not only does this enable more employees to benefit from the flexibility, time and cost savings and health protections offered by telework, it ensures that agencies comply with civil rights laws and disability-related policies.

Continue reading “Accessible Telework: Strategies for Developing Inclusive State Agency Programs”

Keep Americans Connected Pledge Ends, Yet Broadband Access Remains Essential

By: Vanessa Grossl, CSG policy analyst

Broadband has long been hailed the new essential utility. For years, states and cities have been leveraging various resources and taking steps to increase access in order for communities to reach their fullest potential. Still, significant access gaps remain and, moreover, affordability is a barrier for many who live in areas where services exist. The pandemic has proven just how vital broadband access is for families to remain safe, healthy and connected. 

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State Action to Enable Remote Legislative Activity

By Sierra Hatfield, CSG policy analyst and Aja Croteau, CSG operations manager

Key Insights

With guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control warning against mass gatherings, multiple states are grappling with how to continue their legislative sessions. Many states have adjourned or postponed meetings and all are working to ensure that essential government operations continue with transparency while protecting the health and safety of lawmakers. To address these circumstances brought on by the public health emergency, some states are looking to teleconferencing and remote session participation.

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Federal Response to COVID-19: Is Federal Funding Tied to Reopening Schools?

By Max Morley

States are still grappling with how — or if — to reopen K-12 schools in the fall. States are exploring a wide range of options, from mandated in-person school to a fully-remote version of school. Most states fall between these two extremes, seeking a hybrid option of some in-person and some remote learning.

Continue reading “Federal Response to COVID-19: Is Federal Funding Tied to Reopening Schools?”

Voting Amidst COVID-19: Ensuring Accessibility for Persons with Disabilities

By Rachel Wright

With the implementation of strict public health measures in the U.S. in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, virtually no aspect of American life has been left untouched. The conduct of elections has proven no exception. In an effort to prioritize the safety of voters and poll workers alike, numerous states have instituted no-excuse absentee voting, loosened requirements for permanent absentee status, expanded vote-by-mail procedures and explored drive-up options for voting and registration.

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COVID-19 and the Workforce: Impacts on Workers with Disabilities

By Rachel Wright

Unemployment and Absence from Work

As the coronavirus pandemic temporarily curtailed many businesses’ in-person operations, layoffs and furloughs were quick to follow. Although the permanency of these layoffs is still unclear, the U.S. Department of Labor estimates that job losses throughout the pandemic culminated in an unemployment rate of nearly 14.7% by the end of April. Of the positions lost, approximately 950,000 were previously held by workers with disabilities, putting the unemployment rate among these workers at 20%[1].

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State Election Preparations During COVID-19: Legislative Trends

By: Rachel Wright, Research Associate

Both public health guidelines and the desire among state officials to protect poll workers and voters alike have prompted states to implement changes to voting procedures throughout the coronavirus pandemic. Governors in over 17 states have issued executive orders delaying elections and prioritizing mail ballots. Furthermore, over 200 bills have been proposed by legislators that seek to enhance the ability of voters to safely cast their ballot as well as help elections officials to process and count mail ballots.

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