Employers should be relying on the latest public health recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”), as well as state and local public health authorities. According to the CDC’s guidance, if an employee tests positive for COVID-19, your employer should be taking the following actions.
Send Infected Employee Home
The infected employee should be immediately separated from other employees and sent home (or instructed to remain home). Such employees should not return to work until released by their medical provider and they should self-isolate as instructed by the CDC. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) has confirmed infected employees, including those experiencing symptoms, may be sent home.
Identify & Send Home Employees Who Were in Close Proximity with the Infected Employee
The employer should identify and send home all individuals who worked in close proximity (within six feet) of the infected employee for a prolonged period (10 minutes or longer) during the 48 hours before the onset of the symptoms. The CDC provides that employees who worked closely with the infected worker should be instructed to proceed based on the CDC’s guidance. This includes staying home until 14 days after last exposure, maintaining social distance from others, and self-monitoring for symptoms (i.e., fever, cough, or shortness of breath). If you are an essential worker, however, see the section below discussing the CDC’s guidance.
Notify Employees of Positive COVID-19 Test Result
If an employee tests positive for COVID-19 during the pandemic, employers should inform employees that an employee has tested positive for COVID-19 but may not reveal the identity of such employee. Employers may notify affected employees in a way that does not reveal the personal health-related information of the infected employee. For example, according to guidance from California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing, the employer could speak with employees or send an email or other written communication stating:
[Employer] has learned that an employee at [office location] tested positive for the COVID-19 virus. The employee received positive results of this test on [date]. This email is to notify you that you have potentially been exposed to COVID-19 and you should contact your local public health department for guidance and any possible actions to take based on individual circumstances.
Other than communicating the positive test result, employers may not, however, discuss the infected employee’s health status with other employees. The employer must maintain strict confidentiality of the infected employee’s name and health condition.
Maintain a Clean, Safe & Healthy Workplace
Employers must be complying with all safety and health regulations, including as required by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) and its Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19. This may include closing a location known to have been infected, if necessary, for proper cleaning and disinfecting. The CDC recommends waiting up to 24 hours before beginning cleaning and disinfection.
Essential Workers: The CDC has issued relaxed guidelines for critical infrastructure workers, as previously defined by the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, who have been potentially exposed to COVID-19. Under the relaxed guidelines, essential workers potentially exposed to COVID-19 may continue to work following exposure provided they remain symptom-free and employers implement precautions to protect the employee and the community (e.g., pre-screen, regular monitoring, wearing a mask, social distancing, and routinely disinfecting and cleaning work spaces).
If your employer is not following the above precautions and/or the workplace is objectively unsafe or unhealthy, and your employer is nevertheless forcing you to report to work, it could be in violation of OSHA and California’s labor laws, such as Labor Code §§6400, 6402 (“No employer shall require, or permit any employee to go or be in any employment or place of employment which is not safe and healthful”).
If you feel your employer is forcing you to work in an unsafe or unhealthy workplace, contact attorneys at Haeggquist & Eck, LLP to learn more about your rights.