COVID-19 Issues in the Workplace: Changes, Challenges and Tips

The COVID-19 global pandemic has led to rapid and significant changes for employers across every industry. There continue to be immediate critical decisions that need to be made as well as those for which you need to plan to ensure long-term success. The requirements and legislative changes seem to be ever evolving and employers must stay up to date on these daily updates. Some of the potential changes, challenges and questions employers are dealing with are as follows:

You find out that an employee was potentially exposed to someone who tested positive for COVID-19. What are your next steps?

According to the CDC, employees who have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 but have no symptoms should quarantine as a precaution. Note that employers cannot require any employee to stay in quarantine outside of work, but they may send home or prevent sick or symptomatic employees from reporting to work. Next, the employer should notify all people with whom an exposed employee had contact since their exposure, while maintaining employee confidentiality in accordance with the ADA and state medical privacy laws, and advise those people to self-monitor and quarantine, as appropriate.

You find out an individual that was in your office tested positive for COVID-19? What are your next steps?

If the employee is at work and does not require urgent care, tell them to contact a health care provider and quarantine for at least 10 days. Even if the employee shows no symptoms, they may still be able to spread the virus during that time frame. Clean and sanitize workspaces and common areas that were used by the infected employee in the days prior to diagnosis. The CDC has issued guidance for cleaning and disinfecting such areas, including recommendations for cleaning materials.

Employers should notify potentially exposed co-workers without divulging the employee's identity. To the extent possible, employers should retrace the activities of the infected employee and notify any co workers who might have had contact with that person in the days before the diagnosis. The CDC has determined that COVID-19 exposure risk begins when someone is within 6 feet of the infected person for 15 minutes or more. The agency also notes that infected people can spread the virus 48 hours before the onset of symptoms. Keep in mind that all aspects of case investigation and contact tracing must be voluntary, confidential, and culturally appropriate.

The CDC has recently advised employers NOT to require a negative COVID-19 test before employees return to work, but instead to follow these guidelines:
  • Those who never develop symptoms can end isolation 10 days after testing positive.
  • Those with moderate to mild symptoms can end isolation after 10 days if at least 24 hours have passed without a fever and other symptoms have improved.
  • Those with severe symptoms may need to continue isolation for a full 20 days or longer.
  • Record the infection if it is work-related and report it to OSHA, if required.

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