Three Steps to Take if an Employee Tests Positive for Coronavirus

by Karen Stafford, MHRM, SPHR, SHRM – SCP

Your employee has symptoms and the doctor said it could be COVID-19. What do you do now? The steps you take next are critical. The goal is to both contain the virus as much as possible and follow workplace requirements. Following these three steps can help you accomplish that goal.

  1. Follow the Requirements

While it is important to minimize risk to your other employees, it is also very important that you first understand the workplace requirements. Under OSHA, you have a duty to warn your other employees who might have been exposed. At the same time, under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) you must care for the health of your other employees without disclosing the health information of any individual, including the person who might have COVID-19. So, as you consider how to communicate the situation, be careful that you do not communicate more information than is allowed.

  1. Gather Information

Before you can take action, you need to know what the situation actually is. The best place to start is a conversation with the employee. Here is a list of questions to consider asking:

  • How was the employee exposed to the virus? Does he or she know when or where exposure probably took place?
  • When did the employee’s symptoms start?
  • When was the employee last in the workplace? Where was he or she that day?
  • What areas of the workplace was the employee in for the 14 days before symptoms appeared? Try to rebuild the history of where the employee might have been during that two-week period.

Be prepared for some pushback if the employee is not comfortable answering these questions. Reassure the employee that you will keep his or her information confidential and explain that it is required for you to find out these details and learn all that you can to protect the health of your other employees. If the employee cites HIPAA privacy concerns, explain that this situation is not subject to HIPAA because it involves information required for the safety and health of the workplace.

  1. Take Action

As soon as you know an employee has COVID-19, instruct the employee to stay home for at least 14 days and as long as it takes for symptoms to disappear. Encourage the employee to call his or her healthcare provider if the symptoms get worse.

If you have fewer than 500 employees, place that employee on paid leave under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA). You can find information on the length and payment for leave, along with a sample policy here. Make sure you keep all the necessary documentation since this leave may be eligible for tax credits.

Follow these guidelines to help safeguard your staff:

  • Inform your other employees that they may have been exposed to the virus, and provide the window of exposure as the date of the diagnosis plus or minus 14 days. You can find a sample notification template in this list of COVID-19 resources.
  • Hire a cleaning company to clean the location following CDC guidelines.
  • Remind any employee coming on-site to follow CDC protocols, including social distancing, hand washing and wearing a face covering.
  • Hold your employees accountable for safe workplace practices and behaviors.
  • Communicate your expectations with your employees regularly, especially those that change over time in response to guidance from the CDC, OSHA and other agencies.

Following these three basic steps can help limit the spread of COVID-19 in your workplace as you remain in compliance with workplace guidelines. Remember that this situation is fluid and you will need to be ready to adjust. Continue to monitor the health of all of your employees and take appropriate steps to protect their health and welfare.

Karen Stafford joined Employers Council in 2004 and is currently the Arizona president. A graduate of the University of Hawaii, Stafford holds a master’s degree in Human Resource Management and currently serves on the faculty of the W. P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University. She also regularly presents at local, statewide and national conferences. Employers Council, member-based association focused on guiding members through their toughest employment law, human resources and workplace challenges, has an office located in Scottsdale that supports Arizona businesses.

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