If you become aware that an employee has tested positive for COVID-19 and/or is exhibiting symptoms of COVID 19, there are several considerations:
Adhere to Confidentiality and ADA Laws:
COVID-19 has now been declared a pandemic, therefore inquiries into an employee’s symptoms, even if disability-related, are considered justified by the EEOC as a “reasonable belief based on objective evidence that the severe form of pandemic influenza poses a direct threat.”
During the H1N1 pandemic, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) stated that advising workers to go home is not disability-related if the symptoms present are akin to the seasonal influenza or the H1N1 virus. Therefore, an employer may require workers to go home if they exhibit symptoms of the COVID-19 coronavirus or the flu. Again, you must maintain all information about employee illness as a confidential medical record in compliance with the ADA.
Protect Other Employees:
The Company should take steps to ensure the health of the workforce in light of the infected employee, including protecting employees who have been in contact with the infected worker, and keeping the workplace at large free from harm.
In order to protect the workforce, prompt identification and isolation of potential infectious employees is crucial. Employers should encourage employees to self-monitor for signs/symptoms of COVID-19, and encourage employees to report these symptoms, or their possible exposure to COVID-19, to their employer.
Reporting to CDC or Department of Health
There is no obligation to report a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19 to the CDC. The healthcare provider that receives the confirmation of a positive test result is a mandatory reporter who will handle that responsibility.
Leave Entitlements and Benefits under NYS and Federal Laws
In order to determine what leave an employee is entitled to, you should determine:
- Has the DOH issued an order of mandatory or precautionary quarantine? If so, the employee is entitled to leave under the NYS Law (as described above).
Is the employee under the care of a physician for COVID-19? If so, they will be eligible for leave under the FFRCA (as described above).
- Depending on whether the employee is entitled to leave, certain paperwork must be provided to and/or receive from the employee (See applying for leave). Documentation should be sent to the employee regarding their employment status and entitlement to leave.
What to do if an employee tests positive for COVID-19?
Employees should be asked to notify the company if they tested positive for COVID 19. Upon notification, employers should ask the affected employee to compile a list of all the other employees who had been in close contact (i.e. within 6 feet of) with the potentially infected employee within the last 14 days. Employees who inform the employer that they have tested positive should be asked to self quarantine for 14 days .
The employers should inform fellow employees of their possible exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace but maintain confidentiality as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Employees exposed to a co-worker with confirmed COVID-19 should refer to CDC guidance for how to conduct a risk assessment of their potential exposure. Employees who have had close contact with the employee should be sent home and directed to self-quarantine for two weeks.
If an employee who has tested positive for COVID-19 has had close contact with third parties, the employer should communicate with customers and vendors that came into close contact with the employee to let them know about the potential of a suspected case.
Employers may also want to consider asking a cleaning company to undertake a deep cleaning of the affected workspaces. If you work in a shared office building or area, you should inform building management/landlord so they can take whatever precautions they deem necessary.
What to do if an employee exhibits symptoms of COVID 19?
Employees with signs/symptoms of COVID-19 should be immediately isolated. These potentially infectious people should be moved to a location away from workers, customers, and other visitors. Employers should designate areas with closable doors to serve as isolation rooms until potentially sick people can be removed from the worksite. If feasible and available, a face mask should be provided to the potentially infected employee, and the person should be asked to wear it, in order to limit the spread of the respiratory secretions of a person who may have COVID-19. The amount of personnel entering the isolation area should be restricted.
The potentially infected employee should be sent home immediately and be directed to seek medical attention. The employee should not report to work until fourteen (14) days have elapsed since their illness, diagnosis or exposure.
With suspected or unconfirmed cases, take the same precautions as noted above. Treat the situation as if the suspected case is a confirmed case for purposes of sending home potentially infected employees. Communicate with your affected workers to let them know that the employee has not tested positive for the virus but has been exhibiting symptoms that lead you to believe a positive diagnosis is possible.
You are permitted to ask employees suspected of having symptoms to seek medical attention and get tested for COVID-19. The CDC states that employees who exhibit symptoms of influenza-like illness at work during a pandemic should leave the workplace.
What if an employee reports that they have come in contact with someone with COVID-19?
If an employee reports they may have come in contact with someone with COVID-19, take the same precautions as noted above. Treat the situation as if the suspected case is a confirmed case for purposes of sending home potentially infected employees. Communicate with your affected workers to let them know that the employee is asymptomatic for the virus but you are acting out of an abundance of caution.