COVID-19 Spike: Tips on How to Address Workplace Infection and the Holidays
In a scary reality, millions of people defied recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) this Thanksgiving by traveling. In fact, air travel alone was down only 40% from pre-Pandemic November travel in 2019. Unfortunately, the surge in individuals traveling for the holidays increases the risk of infection in our communities and workplaces.
Employers and businesses are directly impacted when a positive COVID-19 test occurs. In order to minimize liability associated with an infection at work, consider the following tips this holiday season when an employee tests positive:
- Act swiftly and maintain confidentiality. Once an employee discloses a positive test, ensure that they quarantine consistent with federal and state recommendations (where applicable). Further, take precautions possible to maintain the privacy of the infected employee. It is usually not possible to stop speculation amongst staff – but ensure that the proper HR and upper management maintain COVID results in order to maintain privacy. Further, make sure that those who may have been in contact with the employee are notified so that they can quarantine and seek treatment (as necessary).
- Develop a plan for the impacted employee. Do not discipline the employee solely because they contracted COVID-19 (doing so can result in legal liability). Instead, discuss how and when the employee will return to work. The EEOC allows testing to determine whether impacted employees can reenter the workplace. Check out their guidelines for further information.
- Determine whether the exposure is work-related and report as necessary. Depending on the type of business you operate and the extent of the COVID-19 infection, it may be necessary to report the exposure to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and potentially workers’ compensation (depending on the state where the infection occurred). OSHA and your local state government may need to track/follow up on the exposure.
In order to promote clarity for your entire team and customers, I recommend developing a COVID-19 related policy (check out my post on this issue) that is updated to reflect changes in the law. In any case, it is important to remember that businesses can continue to operate despite a positive test if responses are measured and complaint. Consulting with counsel can provide guidance and prevent issues down the road – feel free to reach out to me to discuss.
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