RETURNING TO WORK & POTENTIAL EXPOSURES
As businesses begin to resume operations and employees return to work, there are going to be occurrences of exposure, or potential exposure, to COVID-19 by your employees. The CDC is continually updating its information to provide guidance on how best to address such situations. The CDC’S FAQ (last updated on May 3, 2020) provides detailed answers for employers as to how to respond to suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the workplace. The FAQ can be found at: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/general-business-faq.html.
The information below will summarize the CDC’s guidance on how employers should respond in these situations.
WHAT SHOULD I DO IF AN EMPLOYEE REPORTS FOR WORK WITH COVID-19 SYMPTOMS:
Employees who have some of the recognized symptoms of COVID-19 when they arrive at work or those who become sick during the day should immediately be separated from other employees, customers, and anyone else in the workplace and sent home.
- Employees with Symptoms and confirmed case of COVID-19: Employees should not return to work until they have met the criteria to discontinue home isolation, which includes a symptom-based strategy or a test-based strategy.
- Symptom-based strategy: Persons with COVID-19 who have symptoms and were directed to care for themselves at home may discontinue isolation under the following conditions:
- At least 3 days (72 hours) have passed since recovery, defined as resolution of fever without the use of fever-reducing medications and improvement in respiratory symptoms (e.g., cough, shortness of breath); and,
- At least 10 days have passed since symptoms first appeared.
- Test-based strategy: Persons who have COVID-19 who have symptoms and were directed to care for themselves at home may discontinue isolation under the following conditions:
- Resolution of fever without the use of fever-reducing medications and
- Improvement in respiratory symptoms (e.g., cough, shortness of breath), and
- Negative results of an FDA Emergency Use Authorized COVID-19 molecular assay for detection of SARS-CoV-2 RNA from at least two consecutive respiratory specimens collected ≥24 hours apart (total of two negative specimens).
- Employees who DID NOT have symptoms, and have not had to test to determine if they are still contagious, and stayed home can return to work under the following conditions:
- At least 10 days have passed since the date of their first positive test and
- They continue to have no symptoms (no cough or shortness of breath) since the test
Employees who had a test to determine if they are still contagious, can return to work after:
- They have received two negative tests in a row, at least 24 hours apart.
- If they subsequently develop symptoms, follow guidance above for people with COVID-19 symptoms.
Employees Not Tested:
- Employees with COVID-19 who have stayed home can return to work under the following conditions:
- If they have not had a test to determine if they are still contagious, they can return to work after these three things occur:
- They have had no fever for at least 72 hours (without the use of medicine that reduces fevers) and
- other symptoms have improved (for example, symptoms of cough or shortness of breath have improved) AND
- at least 10 days have passed since their symptoms first appeared.
No Doctor’s Note Required
Employers should not require sick employees to provide a COVID-19 test result or healthcare provider’s note to validate their illness, qualify for sick leave, or return to work. Healthcare provider offices and medical facilities may be extremely busy and not able to provide such documentation in a timely manner. However, testing has become more available and most test results are provided within 48-72 hours; if an employee has been tested you can ask for the results, but should not require the employee to provide you with a copy.
DO I NEED TO CLOSE THE BUSINESS OPERATIONS?
In most instances the entire facility need not to be closed, but the business should follow the CDC guidelines which includes:
- Close off any areas used for prolonged periods of time by the sick person.
- Wait 24 hours before cleaning and disinfecting to minimize potential for other employees being exposed to respiratory droplets. If waiting 24 hours is not feasible, wait as long as possible.
- Open outside doors and windows to increase air circulation in these areas.
DO I NEED TO CLEAN AND DISINFECT THE LOCATION?
Business should review and follow the CDC cleaning and disinfection recommendations which includes the following steps:
- Clean dirty surfaces with soap and water before disinfecting them.
- Disinfect surfaces, use products that meet EPA criteria for use against SARS-Cov-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and are appropriate for the surface.
- Require whoever is doing the cleaning to always wear gloves and appropriate protective equipment for the chemicals being used when cleaning and disinfecting.
- Additional personal protective equipment (PPE) may be required depending on the setting and disinfectant product you are using.
HOW DO I DETERMINE IF SOMEONE MAY HAVE BEEN EXPOSED?
Employees may have been exposed if they were in “close contact” of someone who is infected, which is defined as being within approximately 6 feet (2 meters) of a person with COVID-19 for a prolonged period of time.
If an employee may have been exposed, employers should follow these protocols:
- Potentially exposed employees who have symptoms of COVID-19 should self-isolate and follow the CDC recommended steps (referenced above).
- Potentially exposed employees who do not have symptoms should remain at home or in a comparable setting and practice social distancing for 14 days.
All other employees should self-monitor for symptoms such as fever, cough, or shortness of breath. If they develop symptoms, they should notify their supervisor immediately and stay home.
DO I NEED TO ADVISE MY EMPLOYEES OF THE POTENTIAL EXPOSURES AT WORK?
If an employee is confirmed to have COVID-19, employers should inform fellow employees of their possible exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace if they worked in the location or area where the employee confirmed to have COVID-19 worked or were in close proximity to the employee.
The notice must not reveal any confidential medical information about the person to comply with the requirements of the ADA. The individual’s name should not be disclosed, unless the employee has signed an authorization permitting the disclosure of information relating to their diagnosis.
Employers should also notify the employees of what actions the company has taken to protect the workplace, including sending potentially exposed employees home to self-isolate, and the steps have been taken to clean and sanitize the workplace. The failure to notify employees at your location of a confirmed case may be a violation of OSHA’s general duty clause, which requires all employers to provide employees with a safe work environment.