An Employee Tests Positive for the Coronavirus: Steps to Take

You just got off the phone with an employee who explains that their healthcare provider has told them they likely have COVID-19, and the employee is exhibiting symptoms of the virus. What do you do now?

The steps you take now are critical. The goal is to both contain the virus to the extent possible and follow workplace requirements. Under OSHA, you have a duty to warn, and under the Americans with Disabilities Act, you must care for the health of your employees without disclosing the health information of any individual. You must first gather information, then take action.

Gather Information

The best place to start is a conversation with the employee to find out all that you can about:

  • The particular facts of the exposure to the virus if known.
  • The date of onset of symptoms.
  • When they were last in the workplace.
  • What areas of the workplace they were in for the 14 days before symptoms appeared.

If an employee does not want to discuss this, explain that you will keep their information confidential, but you must learn all that you can to protect the health of other employees, and explain that it is required for you to find out this information. If the employee cites HIPAA privacy concerns, explain that this scenario is not subject to HIPAA because it involves information required for the safety and health of the workplace.

Take Action

  • Instruct the infected employee to stay home for at least 14 days, and as long as it takes for the symptoms to disappear.
  • Encourage the employee to call their health care provider should their condition worsen.
  • If you have fewer than 500 employees, place the employee on paid leave under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. The length and payment for leave, along with a sample policy is in our FYI, available on our website. If other employees cannot go to work due to the exposure and cannot telework, they may also be entitled to paid leave. Remember that this leave is eligible for tax credits with proper documentation.
  • Inform other employees that they have been exposed to the virus, and provide the window of exposure as 14 days prior to the date of the confirmed diagnosis, and 14 days after.
  • 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.

Continue to monitor the health of employees so that you can act accordingly for their welfare. Employers Council is continuing to put out guidance on our website, including a series of free webinars, and you are welcome to use any of the resources provided. Members should call with any assistance they need. While our offices are closed, we are working from home to be there for you.