The best leaders are always putting the safety and well-being of their employees first. This was true before COVID-19 and it will be true after, but it does mean that in our current environment, managers have more to consider than ever.
When an employee tests positive for COVID-19, or even shows signs and symptoms, employers should be prepared with policies and procedures to keep their entire workforce safe.
As leaders in the Charlotte region and beyond have asked Tryon Direct’s Coronavirus Task Force questions, we’ve been compiling answers from experts like the task force’s Grainger Pierce. An attorney practicing employment law, Pierce shares his expertise with Tryon Direct clients and other local leaders during our ongoing webinar series Coronavirus for Companies. Here are a few of the questions we hear most often:
If an employee is showing signs of COVID-19, can I send them home?
If any team member is exhibiting symptoms, you can send them home involuntarily. Employers have a duty under OSHA to protect employees and provide a safe workplace. Even if employees are not showing symptoms but have done something like travel to a hot zone or taken a cruise, you can disallow them coming into work for a safe amount of time. If you do not yet have a policy-making this clear for employees, now is the time to enact one so you can control everything on the front end and set expectations for staff.
How long can I and should I keep a sick employee away from work?
You can have an employee stay home until they present a doctor’s note saying it is safe for them to return. A business can also implement an amount of time, say two weeks, that a sick or symptomatic employee must stay home.
If a team member tests positive for COVID-19, how do I tell others without violating HIPAA?
The privacy of health information is governed by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) while issues involving employee health in the workplace are governed by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). When enforcing the ADA, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission defers to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The CDC recommends that best practice is to inform employees who have been exposed to COVID-19. When doing so, inform but do not release details or information about the sick party to maintain their anonymity and privacy. To help assess who should be informed, ask the sick employee to share who they’ve been in contact with before they leave the premises.
If someone has COVID-19, do they have a disability under the ADA?
No. The ADA does not cover respiratory minor diseases like coronavirus and flu. Where the ADA could come into play is if COVID-19 exacerbates an ongoing medical issue. COVID-19 could create problems for someone with an underlying medical problem, for example, aggravating a heart condition.