As the number of COVID-19 cases grows daily, employers across the country are dealing with the difficult situation of responding to an employee’s positive COVID-19 test.
Employers are responsible for handling the situation swiftly to protect the health of other employees while preserving the affected employee’s confidentiality. In addition to notifying the company and its customers, employers must also disinfect the office and evaluate next steps.
If you’re in this situation, you may be wondering what you need to do. Here is an overview of how you can respond to finding out an employee has COVID-19.
Responding to the Employee
When an employee notifies you that he or she has tested positive for COVID-19, you should respond calmly and empathetically. In these uncertain times, it can be easy to overreact, but you need to ensure that the infected employee is treated with compassion. Reassure the employee that their identity will remain confidential and be sure to help them coordinate taking leave or paid time off until they’ve recovered.
You will also need to ask the employee some potentially difficult questions, including gathering a list of who employee has been in contact with recently. Obtaining this information is essential so that you can directly notify customers and other employees that they may have been exposed to COVID-19.
Notifying Employees and Customers
Without disclosing the identity of the infected employee, you need to notify their co-workers, customers and the rest of the company.
Directly notify any co-workers or customers who had direct contact with the ill employee. Because of the sensitive nature of the information, it is probably best to talk to individuals over video chat or phone, since in person communication is not feasible. Be sure to remain calm and let them know that someone they have been in contact with or has been in their physical work area has tested positive for COVID-19. Recommend that they follow CDC guidelines for isolation and monitor themselves for the symptoms of COVID-19. If feasible, allow eligible employees to work from home during this time. You may get a lot of questions that you simply can’t answer. Leave that to the experts. Recommend that employees contact a health care provider (using telehealth if possible) and refer to the guidance on the CDC website or local health authorities if they have questions. Let individuals know what support the company can offer during this time. Plan to check in with the employee who tested positive, and any employees or customers isolating due to close contact, regularly to see how they are doing.
Be sure to notify the rest of the company by email or letter that an employee has tested positive for COVID-19. Remember to keep the employee’s identity protected and be transparent about your response. The communication should include what steps your company will be taking to protect the health of other employees.
Disinfecting the Office
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, COVID-19 can remain on hard surfaces for up to 12 hours, creating a potential risk of transmission. Depending on the size of your organization, you may want to consider closing the office for a few days so that it can be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected. All surfaces that the infected employee may have touched should be disinfected, as well as other high-touch surfaces, which include countertops, cabinets, doorknobs, handles and chairs.
Evaluating Leave Policies
Employers need to evaluate what their next steps will be. For some, this may involve shutting down their office temporarily. For others, this may mean asking employees to work from home until further notice. Each business is unique and should make the best decision for their unique needs. Should your company decide to shut down, you will need to review your leave policies. Consider asking employees to use their sick leave or paid time off if you’re shutting down the office.
Due to the rapid spread of COVID-19, employers should be prepared to respond to an employee testing positive for the disease. By being prepared, employers can swiftly respond to the employee, notify the rest of their organization, and make plans for moving forward.