A Step-by-Step Guide to COVID-19 in the Workplace

By Katy Reif, HR Business Partner at Trüpp

Step 1: Send the employee home 

The CDC recommends that employees who appear to have acute respiratory illness symptoms (i.e., cough, shortness of breath) when they show up to work or become sick during the day should be separated from other employees and sent home immediately.

Under updated EEOC guidance for the pandemic, employers can take an employee’s body temperature but should be aware that some people with COVID-19 do not have a fever.

Step 2: Require the employee to stay home 

You can require an employee to stay home if you suspect they have COVID-19. However, employers must be careful to avoid discriminating against individuals of a protected class, including disabled employees, or individuals belonging to particular races or nationalities where the virus may be prevalent. Additionally, OSHA and many state departments of health have released guidelines to employers that they cannot require a healthcare provider’s note for employees who are sick with acute respiratory illness, as this will overwhelm the medical system.

Step 3: Communicate the exposure to your workplace

If an employee is confirmed to have COVID-19 or a health care professional/health department informs an employee of a potential exposure, the employer should inform fellow employees of their possible exposure in the workplace but maintain a high level of confidentiality. The fellow employees should then self-monitor for symptoms (e.g., fever, cough or shortness of breath).

If an employee is not comfortable going into the office anymore, an employer should try to work with the concerned employee to devise any changes to work schedules or other flexible working arrangements, such as telecommuting. If employees will be telecommuting to the office, be sure there is a clear policy in place for them to adhere to. An employer may also wish to refer the employee to its employee assistance program (EAP) if one is available.

Employers should be aware that it may be considered a protected activity for a healthy, asymptomatic employee to refuse to come to work based on a fear of contracting COVID-19. Employers should consult with a qualified employment expert before imposing discipline against an employee who is refusing to go into work for this reason.

Step 4: Disinfect the workplace

The CDC recommends that workplaces should be performing routine environmental cleaning, including cleaning of all frequently touched surfaces such as workstations, countertops, and doorknobs.

In the event of potential exposure, it is recommended to close off areas used by the ill persons and wait as long as practical before beginning cleaning and disinfection to minimize the potential for exposure to respiratory droplets. Open outside doors and windows to increase air circulation in the area. If possible, wait up to 24 hours before beginning cleaning and disinfection.

Cleaning staff should clean and disinfect all areas (e.g., offices, bathrooms, and common areas) used by the ill persons, focusing especially on frequently touched surfaces.

Step 5: Employee returns to work

Sick employees should follow the CDC-recommended steps. Employees should not return to work until the criteria to discontinue home isolation are met, in consultation with healthcare providers and state and local health departments.

Employees who are well but who have a sick family member at home with COVID-19 should notify their supervisor and follow CDC recommended precautions.

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