Millions of Americans have tested positive for the coronavirus, so there are good odds that one or more of your employees will test positive in the coming months. There is a smart (and legal) way to communicate this news to your employees.
Even though you may have a small office staff and everyone always knows what is going on with who, for your own protection, it is best to follow the spirit of these notification guidelines.
Employees deserve to hear this news from you, not from a tweet, text, or social media post. But make sure you handle it legally. The ADA (American with Disabilities Act) confidentiality rules apply to these communications, and the employee’s positive test is still a confidential medical record. That means you can’t divulge the identity of the person who tests positive.
You should, however, use a letter or email to communicate to employees that they may have come in contact with someone who tested positive and they should be diligent about monitoring their own health for possible symptoms. Also, go beyond this alert to make employees feel safer.
When can an employee who has had close contact with someone with COVID-19 return to work?
Close contact is defined as being within 6 feet of an infected person for a prolonged period (15 minutes or more) starting from 2 days before illness onset. Employees that have been exposed to a COVID-19 positive person may return to work when they meet the following criteria:
- They have self-isolated for 14 days from the last contact with a sick person and have had no symptoms
- If they develop symptoms during the self-isolation period, employees must stay home and avoid others until:
– They have been fever-free for 24hours (without the use of fever-reducing medications),
– Their symptoms improve,
– AND it has been 10 days since their first symptoms.
What if the employee diagnosed with COVID-19 is asymptomatic? When can they come back to work?
Employees that are asymptomatic but had a positive test or diagnosis for COVID-19 should:
- Self-isolate and monitor their health for 10 days.
- If they have no symptoms, they may return to work after 10 days from testing
- If they develop symptoms during the 10 days, they should extend isolation precautions for at least 10 days from the date of symptom onset and must meet the following criteria before returning to work:
– They have been fever-free for 24 hours.
– Their other symptoms have improved
– It has been at least 10 days since their symptom onset
When can an employee with a positive COVID-19 test return to work?
Employees with a positive test may return to work when they meet the following criteria:
– They have been fever-free for 24 hours
– Their respiratory symptoms are improving
– It has been at least 10 days since their symptom onset
– If the person had no symptoms, they may return 10 days after they were tested
Health authorities recommend against requiring employees to have a negative COVID-19 test before returning to work. People with COVID-19 may have positive test results for weeks after they recover but are not contagious after they meet the symptom criteria above. Requiring a negative test places an unnecessary burden on the employee and may prevent you from providing services due to extended employee absences.
Do I need to notify patients?
If the employee with the positive test had close contact with any patients or staff members, those individuals should be notified. Your local Public Health office will work with you to do this.
Sample Email Communication
Here is a sample letter drafted by an attorney that you can edit for your workplace and send along to employees (via email or other internal communication) after you’ve learned that an employee in the workplace has tested positive…
It saddens me to inform you that one of your co-workers has tested positive for COVID-19. The law prevents us from telling you the identity of that co-worker, but we want to assure you that we will continue to support this employee as your co-worker recovers from this virus, and we will welcome them back to join you at work once it is safe to do so.
We are doing everything within our ability and resources to keep you as safe and healthy as possible at work. Still, with many cases of COVID-19 transmitted before anyone knows they have been exposed, and with you being at work only for a fraction of your day, we cannot 100% guarantee the virus won’t enter our workplace.
We continue to require that you self-assess daily for your own potential COVID-19 symptoms (fever or chills, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fatigue, muscle or body aches, headache, new loss of taste or smell, sore throat, congestion or runny nose, nausea or vomiting, or diarrhea). If you have any of these symptoms, please let us know and do not return to work until you have received a negative COVID-19 test, or you are symptom-free for at least 72 hours and at least 10 days have passed since your first symptoms.
We are also continuing to take the following steps to help ensure, as best as possible, your health and safety here at work:
- Employees are required to wear masks or other facial coverings at all times while at work unless you have been granted a specific exception (such as for safety, a medical reason, or because you are working alone in a closed office).
- Employees are required to maintain six feet of social distance from others at all times.
- Employees must diligently wash their hands and otherwise use hand sanitizer (which we are providing in intervals around the workplace).
- Employee must self-assess their own health before reporting to work, and no employee is permitted to come to work if they have any of the known symptoms of COVID-19.
- Each employee is responsible for cleaning their own work station at the end of each shift.
- We are deep cleaning the entire workplace on a weekly basis.
Additionally, because of the unfortunate positive test, we had the facility deep cleaned and sanitized prior to anyone being allowed to reenter after we learned of the positive test.
Our commitment to your health and safety is our top priority. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact ______________. Our door is always open.