If you’d like to know how to respond if an employee tests positive for COVID-19, you’ll want to follow the steps outlined below, which are based on guidelines set by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
First, please keep in mind that if there is even one confirmed case of COVID-19 in your workplace, other employees could become infected. An outbreak situation could rapidly develop. It’s possible that you may need help from your local health department to effectively plan and carry out a response if an outbreak occurs.
Therefore, you may wish to keep the phone number for your local health department programmed into your smartphone.
Note: If you live in California and your business is within healthcare, congregate living settings, or other workplaces, there are separate guidelines. In that case, the California Aerosol Transmissible Diseases (ATD) standard applies.
Related: What Employers Should Consider for a Return to Work Policy
Positive Tests and Employee Safety: First Steps
The following are immediate steps you should take if an employee tests positive for COVID-19.
Stay at Home
You should ask your employees to notify their immediate superior (manager, supervisor, etc.) if they feel they might be experiencing classic COVID-19 symptoms. These include fever, difficulty breathing, body or muscle aches, loss of appetite, diarrhea, chills, shaking chills, sore throat, and loss of taste or smell. Upon notification, that employee’s superior must tell them to stay home. They may wish to perform a temperature check every so often.
Send Them Home
If you notice that an employee who has come to work appears sick or seems to become unwell over the workday, you should immediately separate that person from others. Try to isolate the ill individual from other employees, vendors, visitors, customers etc. and have them sent home. Remember that it’s all about keeping your workspace healthy!
Remind your employee that he or she must self-isolate at home and remain in contact with their healthcare providers and the local and state health departments. Let that individual know that he or she cannot come back to work until they’ve met all criteria for discontinuing home isolation.
Sick Family Members
Suppose your employee isn’t a confirmed case of COVID-19 but he or she has a family member who becomes ill with the Coronavirus. In that case, that person should let an immediate supervisor, manager, etc. know immediately and then follow all precautions recommended by the CDC.
Informing Your Employees
Should one of your employees become ill with COVID-19, it’s your responsibility to let the rest of your employees know that they too may have been exposed to the virus. However, bear in mind that you must maintain confidentiality as the Americans with Disabilities Act requires.
Related: COVID-19 Testing
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Let your other employees know that they should self-monitor for COVID-19 symptoms. For example, if they start to feel bad, they might wish to perform a temperature check.
You should do your best to identify which individuals the employee who tested positive for COVID-19 encountered over the two weeks before he or she first began displaying symptoms or tested positive. Pay attention and try to identify fellow employees, visitors, vendors, and customers with whom the infected individual came into contact.
Practice Safety First
You should let anyone who came into contact with your infected employee within the 14 days before he or she displaying symptoms or testing positive with COVID-19 that they may be infected. You should then instruct affected employees to go home and begin self-isolation for the next two weeks. If possible, you may wish to allow these individuals to work from home.
Shutting Down the Workplace
Unfortunately, you may need to close your workplace down immediately, depending on the scope of exposure you or your employees have had to COVID-19. If possible, instead of shutting down operations entirely, coordinate with your employees to work from home.
Immediately ensure your workspace is cleaned and disinfected with the enhanced methods outlined by the CDC after a person (suspected or confirmed) with COVID-19 has been in your facility.
Use of PPE
Make sure that you provide for the protection of any workers who clean your facility. These individuals should also receive proper training before you assign them cleaning duties. For example, these workers need to know when to use personal protective equipment (PPE), what’s necessary for them to wear when it comes to PPE, how to wear PPE in the correct manner, how to properly use PPE, and how to take PPE off. Finally, they need to know how to dispose of their protective equipment correctly.
Use of Chemicals
Remember that there are OSHA standards that anyone cleaning your facility must uphold. Therefore, those doing the cleaning need to be appropriately trained in the correct use of any cleaning chemicals used during the cleaning and disinfecting of areas previously occupied by someone suspected or confirmed of having COVID-19.
Keep in Touch with the Health Department
Finally, remember that if you are uncertain about anything, you should work with local and state health departments to make sure that you’re following all guidelines. These can include any additional or updated guidance on such things as disinfection and cleaning of your facilities, identifying and tracking new, potential cases of Coronavirus infection, etc.
Sick Leave Policies
As an employer during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s your responsibility to remember that everyone is in this together. Therefore, make sure that whatever sick leave policies you have in place are flexible and generous enough for your employees to stay at home without being penalized.
Federal Coronavirus Paid FMLA
It’s vital to note that federal law now mandates that from April 1, 2020 through December 21, 2020, you must provide employees with paid sick leave or paid family and medical leave if you have less than 500 employees for COVID-19 related reasons.
You may qualify for a reimbursement, dollar-for-dollar, for all qualifying wages you pay under the paid FMLA and federal paid sick leave mandates. You should understand that these reimbursements will be made through tax credits.
If you have less than 50 employees, you might qualify for an exemption from the federal requirement to provide paid leave.
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Remember that we’re all in this together. The information given above is intended to help you know what to do and when to do it if an employee tests positive for COVID-19. Keep in mind that COVID-19 can affect anyone and has already affected many worldwide. If your employee tests positive for the Coronavirus, please be empathetic. That person could be in for a rough time ahead, and the grace and goodwill you display now will help your business outlast the pandemic.
Related: COVID Screening