What Employers Should Do When an Employee Contracts COVID-19

March 30, 2020Alerts

Employers must take affirmative steps to decrease the spread of COVID-19 and reduce its impact upon their employees and the work environment to comply with their OSHA responsibilities. To satisfy those requirements, employers are actively encouraging sick employees to stay at home, identifying where and how workers may be exposed to COVID-19 and taking steps to reduce those potential exposures.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has issued helpful guidelines outlining what employers may and may not do to protect both employees and the community’s public health.

But what should you do if an employee is diagnosed with COVID-19?

Follow this quick five-step process to ensure you have satisfied your legal responsibilities pertaining to both the sick employee and the remainder of your workforce.

1. Send home any employee who is sick whether or not they have been diagnosed with COVID-19.

Employers may require an employee to stay home from or leave work if they have or appear to have symptoms of the virus.

2. If an employee is diagnosed with COVID-19, notify other employees who may have been exposed to them.

Employers should notify potentially exposed employees of the diagnosis and the need to contact their health care providers. Be mindful of any requirements to notify local or state health authorities when employees are diagnosed with COVID-19. Consider notifying clients, vendors and/or guests who may have been exposed to the diagnosed employee of the diagnosis.

3. Protect the privacy of the diagnosed employee.

The Americans with Disabilities Act requires the confidentiality of employees’ medical information, and employers may not disclose the identity of the employee diagnosed with COVID-19. Employers are also required to maintain the privacy of any health information they gather related to an employee’s medical condition or their symptoms, and any such documentation should be kept in a private health folder with limited access by only critical human resource staff.

4. Do not permit the diagnosed employee to return to work until she has been free of symptoms for 72 hours or cleared by a physician.

It may be unrealistic in the current health climate to expect a formal return to work certification from a primary care doctor, but you may rely upon a form from a local clinic or an email from such a facility to confirm the employee does not have the virus.

5. Continue to require employees to monitor themselves for symptoms and stay home if they exhibit any symptoms.

Employers are permitted to ask employees if they are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, and whether they have been in contact with anyone diagnosed with or exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19.

CDC guidelines recommend cleaning and disinfecting the work facility used by the diagnosed employee. Refer to the CDC's instructions on Cleaning and Disinfecting Your Facility for specific guidance on disinfecting your work environment.

Employers must continue to follow the evolving advice of the CDC concerning returning employees to work following infection and cleaning their facilities. Fox Rothschild LLP stands ready to assist with providing solutions to human resources issues during the pandemic.