Given the many unknowns surrounding the coronavirus, at some point, it’s likely that one of your employees will report symptoms, potential exposure, or even a positive COVID-19 test result. Here are a few guidelines on how to respond.
Exposure and Diagnosis
Exposed Without Symptoms. An employee exposed to COVID-19 may not show any of the common symptoms. If an employee reports potential contact, follow CDC guidelines for employers, including staying at home and practicing social distancing for 14 days.
Employees with Symptoms. Under the EEOC, an employer is allowed to ask an employee how he or she is feeling in general but not allowed to ask about a specific illness as that could be considered a disability-related inquiry prohibited under the ADA. Employees who appear to have COVID-19 symptoms should be separated from others and sent home until they are symptom-free. The CDC’s symptom self-checker is a helpful tool employers and employees can use to determine the next steps.
Confirmed COVID-19 Diagnosis. Once an employee has a confirmed diagnosis for COVID-19, in most cases, you may not need to shut down your business, but you should take extra precautions, including:
- Instruct exposed employees to stay home for 14 days, work remotely if possible, and self-monitor
- Check temperatures of all individuals entering the workplace
- Restrict and close-off areas used for prolonged periods by the infected employee
- Clean and disinfect shared areas such as offices, bathrooms, common areas, shared electronic equipment routinely
- Require employees and visitors to wear a face mask at all times while in the workplace
- Require social distancing
The testing process for COVID-19 is still evolving and immediate access to testing is not widely available. To date, there are two types of tests:Viral tests. Viral tests are authorized by the FDA and used to diagnose an active infection of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Under the ADA, employers are permitted to require viral testing before allowing employees to re-enter the workplace.
Antibody tests. An antibody test is different from the viral test that's used to determine if someone has an active case of COVID-19. Authorized by the FDA, an antibody test detects a past infection. It's reliability comes into question because results are based on timing - the period when the person contracted the virus and when the test was taken - which may prevent locating the antibodies in someone with an active case of COVID-19. Therefore, antibody testing is currently not permitted under the ADA.
Guidance on viral testing in the workplace can vary. CDC guidance doesn’t replace state or local legislation or requirements of local health officials. Employers should work with their local government and health officials to determine how to implement the appropriate testing strategy for their business.
While the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) privacy rules restrict employers from sharing an employee’s personal health information, employers have an obligation to keep employees and customers safe by informing others about the potential exposure, including employees, customers and vendors. If your business is located in a shared office building or area, also inform building management.
Returning to Work
Employees with COVID-19 who have stayed home may stop self-isolation and return to work when they have met certain criteria.
As of July 20, 2020, the CDC revised its recommendations, to include:
- If symptoms have passed at least 24 hours since the last fever without the use of fever-reducing medications.
- For those who didn't develop symptoms, self-isolation and other precautions can be discontinued 10 days after the date of their first positive RT-PCR test for SARS-CoV-2 RNA.
- For those with severe cases, additional isolation, up to 20 days after the onset of symptoms, may be required.
Please note: CDC guidance is based on available information about COVID-19 and is subject to change as additional information becomes available.
Do you have concerns about reopening safely? To help businesses like yours reopen with confidence, we created the COVID-19 Back to Work Employer's Toolkit. Inside you'll find all of the important resources and paperwork you need, plus the expert HR guidance to help you reopen with confidence while the pandemic is still active.
About Propel HR. Propel HR is an IRS-certified PEO that has been a leading provider of human resources and payroll solutions for more than 20 years. Propel partners with small to mid-sized businesses to manage payroll, employee benefits, compliance and risks, and other HR functions in a way that maximizes efficiency and reduces costs.