While implementing new safety protocols to protect employees from being infected, employers might also be wondering what to do if an employee has contracted COVID-19. It is essential that employers handle the situation swiftly in order 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 are in this situation, here are some steps you should take to effectively handle an employee’s positive COVID-19 test.
Responding to the Employee
It can be easy to overreact when an employee notifies you that he/she has COVID-19. However, it is important to respond calmly and empathetically. Reassure the employee that their identity will remain confidential, and be sure to help the coordinate taking leave or paid time off until they’ve recovered.
Unfortunately, you need to ask the employee some potentially difficult and personal questions, including whom they have been in contact with in the last two weeks. Obtaining this information is vital so that you can directly notify customers and other employees if they may have been exposed.
Notifying Employees and Customers
Without disclosing the identity of the infected employee, directly notify any co-workers or customers whom they have been in contact with. 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 self-quarantine for the next 14 days and monitor themselves for symptoms. If feasible, offer the opportunity to work from home.
Be sure to notify the rest of the company by email or letter. Remember to keep the infected employee’s identity protected and be transparent about your response. Communicate what steps your company will be taking to protect the health of your employees. Be sure to disclose if you plan on having employees work remotely for the next 14 days or closing the office.
Disinfecting the Office
According to the CDC, COVID_19 can remain on hard surfaces for up to 12 hours, creating a potential risk of transmission. Depending on the size of your workplace, you may want to consider closing the office for a few days so that it can be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected. All surfaces the infected employee may have touched should be disinfected, as well as other high-touch surfaces, such as 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. 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.
You should also be aware of provisions included in the newly instituted federal leave act, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), should you need to close the office or if employees opt to take leave due to COVID-19. The FFCRA—signed into law by President Trump on March 18, 2020—requires certain employers to provide employees with expanded family and medical leave for specified reasons related to COVID-19, which would apply from April 1, 2020, through Dec. 31, 2020. Be sure to find out if your business qualifies for this leave.
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.