What to Do If an Employee Is Diagnosed With COVID-19

Keeping employees safe during the COVID-19 pandemic is paramount to an overall program to prevent the spread of the virus to other workers. COVID-19 is highly contagious and having an employee that reports to work who later starts exhibiting symptoms needs to be immediately addressed to help stop the spread of the virus in the workplace.

In order to address the spread of the virus in the workplace, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has issued guidelines outlining what employers may and may not do to protect both employees and the community’s public health.

If an employee becomes sick at work, the following steps need to be taken in order to protect the ill employee and the remaining workforce:

• Send home any employee who is exhibiting symptoms such as coughing, shortness of breath, fever or has intestinal distress even if they have not been diagnosed with COVID-19. If possible, send the employee home by means other than public transportation.

• If the employee calls in sick because they are exhibiting symptoms, the employee needs to be instructed to stay home until they recover. The employee should not be allowed to return to work until they have experienced 72 hours of not having a fever.

• If an employee is diagnosed with COVID-19, notify other employees who may have been exposed to them. The infected employee should be asked to identify all other individuals such as coworkers, clients, vendors, guests with whom they had continuous and close contact within the preceding 14 days. Continuous means working in the same space or having in-person contact. Close contact is defined by the CDC as being within approximately 6 feet of a COVID-19 case for a prolonged period of time or having direct contact with infectious secretions such as being coughed on.

• Employers should notify potentially exposed employees and other identified parties of the diagnosis and the need to contact their health care providers. They may also have to notify local or state health authorities when employees are diagnosed with COVID-19.

• Protect the privacy of the diagnosed employee. When informing other exposed individuals, the name of the employee needs to be kept confidential. Try to avoid making any direct or indirect references that would lead coworkers to guess the identity of the employee, although that may be difficult. The Americans with Disabilities Act requires the confidentiality of employees’ medical information. In addition, any other information regarding the employee’s medical condition or their symptoms along with documentation also needs to be protected.

• Require exposed coworkers to go home or not report for work. Exposed employees need to be prevented from returning to work until they have passed a 14-day self-quarantine period without exhibiting symptoms, have doctor’s release, or a documented negative COVID-19 test.

Alternately, the CDC has issued guidance that critical infrastructure workers may be permitted to continue work following potential exposure to COVID-19, provided they remain asymptomatic and additional precautions are implemented to protect them and the community.

Critical Infrastructure workers who have had an exposure but remain asymptomatic should adhere to the following practices prior to and during their work shift:

• Pre-Screen: Employers should measure the employee’s temperature and assess symptoms prior to them starting work. Ideally, temperature checks should happen before the individual enters the facility.

• Regular Monitoring: As long as the employee doesn’t have a temperature or symptoms, they should self-monitor under the supervision of their employer’s occupational health program.

 Wear a Mask: The employee should wear a face mask at all times while in the workplace for 14 days after last exposure. Employers can issue facemasks or can approve employees’ supplied cloth face coverings in the event of shortages.

• Social Distance: The employee should maintain 6 feet and practice social distancing as work duties permit in the workplace.

• Disinfect and Clean Workspaces: Clean and disinfect all areas such as offices, bathrooms, common areas, shared electronic equipment routinely.

If the employee becomes sick during the day, they should be sent home immediately. Surfaces in their workspace should be cleaned and disinfected.

Do not permit the diagnosed employee to return to work until they have been free of symptoms for 72 hours, a documented negative COVID-19 test, or be cleared by a doctor. Given the current situation with health care providers, it may not be possible to obtain a formal certification. Relying upon a form from a local clinic or an email from such a facility could be used to confirm the employee does not have the virus. Also, some states and municipalities are not requiring employees have a formal release to return to work, so be aware of your specific state or municipality’s requirements.

If an employee has a confirmed case of coronavirus, you will need to disinfect the workplace. This includes any equipment the employee touched, workstations, common areas, countertops, doorknobs, bathrooms, and other frequently used surfaces in the workplace. See SGIA’s sanitation guide that is based on CDC guidance regarding cleaning and disinfection.

For more information please contact the Government Affairs Department at govtaffairs@sgia.org.