Employment Law Q&A: Responding to a positive COVID-19 test

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Q: How do I respond to an employee who has tested positive for COVID-19 or had potential contact with someone who has?

What to do if an employee has tested positive for COVID-19

If an employee tests positive for COVID-19, send all employees who worked closely with that employee home for at least 14 days. Contact local and state health officials for assistance.  Request that the individual who tested positive provide you with a list of all individuals they worked closely with or came in close contact with (within 1-3 feet) during the previous 14 days.

Do not identify the infected employee by name, but let the employees who were in close proximity know that they were in close proximity with an infected employee and that they should be tested. If other employees request the name of the infected individual, tell them that the law does not allow you to disclose that information.

Although not required you could hire a company to disinfect your workspace. Also, if you are in a shared space you should notify the buildings management. Alert all customers and clients the employee who tested positive came in contact with of the situation. There is, however, no requirement to alert the CDC or the state. The employee’s health care provider will do so.   

What to do if an employee is showing symptoms of COVID-19

If an employee has not tested positive but is exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19, send the employee home for at least 14 days and request that he or she getting tested. Some health care providers are not testing all individuals, so you may not be able to require a negative test to allow the employee to return to work prior to the 14 day period ending. If the employee is able to get a test and it is negative, he or she may, of course, return prior to the end of the 14 day period.

If the employee ends up having another ailment they should make sure that it is not contagious prior to returning to work.  In addition, employers should determine what other employees the person came into close contact with. Without disclosing who the person is, tell those employees that there is an individual exhibiting symptoms. It should be up to them at that point to stay at work, quarantine, or be tested.

Employers should not ask whether an employee has COVID-19 but instead should inquire into symptoms. The most common symptoms of COVID-19 are fever and a dry cough. The Ohio Department of Health has provided a helpful chart to assist in determining whether symptoms are the cold, flu or COVID-19.

What to do if an employee had potential contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19

Another scenario that has been playing out is employees self-reporting that they came in contact with someone who has COVID-19. Check whether or not the employee is exhibiting symptoms. Communicate with staff that an employee came into contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19, that he or she was not exhibiting symptoms, and is being sent home for 14 days. Again, determine who that employee came into contact with at work and notify them of the situation. It is the employer’s choice to send those employees home or provide those employees with the choice whether to stay at work, quarantine, or be tested.

Ensure that employees are instructed that, if they become ill with symptoms of COVID-19, they notify human resources or some other member of management. Finally, ensure that employees who have been exposed, tested positive, or began exhibited symptoms of COVID-19 while out of work are instructed not to come into work but to contact the employer by telephone or email.

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