My Employee Tested Positive for Coronavirus…Now What?

Last Updated on July 27, 2020 by bigfish-admin

While it was once believed the summer months would bring some relief, COVID-19 cases are continuing to rise in the United States. As a result, more employers are receiving the alarming news that an employee has tested positive for Coronavirus. So, if your employee has tested positive for COVID-19, now what? Below, we have listed the considerations for employers to keep in mind as they address coronavirus cases in the workplace.

A 7-step guide to addressing a COVID-19 case in your workplace: 

  1. Quarantine 

As an employer, you should isolate any employees who are experiencing symptoms or have tested positive for COVID-19 by requiring them to remain home from work. Instruct the infected or symptomatic employee to remain self-isolated at home until released by a physician. Given the chaotic nature of the global pandemic, a doctor’s note releasing an employee may be unavailable. In this situation, follow CDC guidelines on when an employee may discontinue self-isolation. These specific requirements are dependent upon whether the employee has tested positive and/or exhibited symptoms. 

  1. Trace

If you learn that one or more employees have been diagnosed with COVID-19, ask the infected employee to identify all other employees or third parties who may have been exposed at the workplace during the infectious period, as quickly as possible. Conduct contact tracing to identify individuals in the ‘6-15-48’ zone of the infected employee.

The 6-15-48 Rule:

  • 6: Individuals who worked within close proximity (6 feet) of the infected person. 
  • 15: Individuals who were exposed to the infected person for 15 minutes of more. 
  • 48: Individuals who were exposed to the infected person during the 48 hours prior to the onset of the infected person’s symptoms. 

The CDC has provided contact tracing guidelines to use when speaking with your staff in order to best determine who may have been exposed. Beyond speaking to the infected employee, consider using apps and technology to help with your contact tracing efforts. Always consult your employment attorney for specific guidance depending on your unique situation. 

  1. Notify

After contact tracing efforts, address the employees who were determined to be in close proximity to the infected employee. Under CDC guidance, you should notify all staff who worked in close proximity to the infected employee that they may have been exposed. Ask non-critical employees to self-isolate and work from home for 14 days to ensure the infection does not spread. (Guidelines are constantly being updated, for the most accurate information please refer to the CDC). During isolation, instruct employees to: 

  • Self-monitor for symptoms
  • Avoid contact with high risk individuals 
  • Seek medical attention if symptoms develop

The CDC has developed alternate guidance for critical infrastructure workers. If you have been recognized as an essential business, asymptomatic employees who have been directly exposed to confirmed case of COVID-19 may continue to work, provided certain requirements are met. 

  1. Document / Report 

If any employees are experiencing symptoms or have tested positive for COVID-19, ensure that you are investigating, documenting, and reporting any work-related COVID-19 cases. OSHA has recently unveiled new recordkeeping requirements, requiring that covered employers demonstrate an increased effort to determine whether they need to report confirmed coronavirus cases. Ensure your compliance by documenting your efforts to determine if any employee positive COVID-19 case was work related. Once learning of any employee’s COVID-19 illness you should: 

  1. Ask the infected employee where & how they believe they may have contracted COVID-19. 
  2. Discuss with the infected employee their activities, both in and out of the workplace, that may have exposed them to the COVID-19 virus (while respecting the employee’s privacy). 
  3. Review the employee’s work environment for potential COVID-19 exposure. 

Gather additional context to aid your documentation efforts. OSHA’s guidelines highlight certain evidence that weigh in favor or against the Coronavirus illness being work-related. For example, when there is no alternative explanation, a case is likely work related: 

  • When several cases develop among employees who work closely together. 
  • If contacted after lengthy or close exposure (6-15-48 zone) to an individual with a confirmed case of COVID-19. 
  • If an employee’s job duties include frequent and close exposure to the general public, in locality with widespread transmission (for example, employees who work in healthcare). 
  1. Disinfect

After you learn of a COVID-19 case in your workplace, follow CDC guidelines for cleaning and sanitizing the workplace. Utilize a cleaning staff or third-party sanitation contractor to clean and disinfect all areas (offices, bathrooms, breakrooms, kitchens, and other common areas) used by the ill person. Focus especially on surfaces that have been frequently touched. 

If you are using a cleaner of a higher chemical grade than normal household cleaners, at a higher frequency than an employee would at home, you must take extra precautions. Ensure that workers are properly trained on the hazards of the chosen cleaning chemicals, and maintain written notification in accordance with OSHA’s Hazard Communication standard. You can simply download the manufacturer’s Safety Data Sheet (SDS) and share with employees as needed.

  1. 3rd Parties 

After learning of a confirmed COVID-19 case, the CDC recommends notifying all employees who work in the location near the affected person of their possible exposure. See this sample Notice of Positive Employee Test for an example. The notification should be made without revealing confidential medical information, such as the name of the sick employee. Be sure to also notify any third parties who may have been exposed to the infected employee. 

Inform all parties affected of the actions you have taken, including: 

  • Requiring employees who work closely with the infected worker to go home (depending on whether you are a non-essential business). 
  • Sanitizing and cleaning efforts taken in the workplace. 

Be sure to also remind these third parties to seek medical attention if they are experiencing any symptoms. Failure to notify employees of a confirmed case may be a violation of OSHA’s general duty clause, which requires all employers to provide their employee(s) with a safe working environment. 

  1. Paid Leave 

Finally, review all company, local, state and federal guidelines to determine if the infected employee is eligible for paid time off. If your company is a covered employer under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), the infected employee and other potentially exposed employees may be eligible for emergency paid sick leave. Be sure to always maintain appropriate documentation for all employees on leave. 

We are currently in an era of ever-evolving guidelines, with new recommendations being issued constantly. Big Fish will continue to monitor the rapidly developing situation surrounding COVID-19 and provide updates as appropriate. 

For further information, you can reference the following resources: 

CDC 

OSHA 

Big Fish COVID-19 

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