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What To Do If An Employee Contracts COVID-19

An employer must take ongoing steps to control the spread of COVID-19 and reduce its impact upon employees and the work environment to comply with OSHA requirements. To satisfy those requirements, employers should actively encourage sick employees to stay at home, identifying where and how workers may be exposed to COVID-19, and taking steps to reduce those potential exposures.

What should you do if an employee is diagnosed with COVID-19? The recommendations are pretty standard to ensure you have satisfied your legal responsibilities pertaining to both the sick employee and the remainder of your workforce.

Step One: Send Them Home

  1. Send home any employee who is sick whether or not they have been diagnosed with COVID-19. An employer may further require an employee to stay home from work if they have or appear to have symptoms of the virus until those symptoms vanish. Continue to require employees to monitor themselves for symptoms and stay home if they exhibit any symptoms.
  2. If an employee is diagnosed with COVID-19, employers should inform fellow employees of their possible exposure to the disease. Employers should notify potentially exposed employees of the diagnosis and the need to contact their health care providers. Be mindful of any requirements to notify local or state health authorities when employees are diagnosed with COVID-19. Consider notifying clients, vendors and/or guests who may have been exposed to the diagnosed employee of the diagnosis.
  3. Protect the privacy of the diagnosed employee. If an employee is diagnosed with COVID-19, Employers may ask, but cannot require, that the affected employee allow the voluntary disclosure of their identity. Without this consent, employers must be careful to protect the confidentiality of the affected employee, as the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and other medical privacy laws generally prohibit employers from disclosing employees’ confidential medical information. Employers may generally inform the employee’s coworkers that they may have recently been in contact with an employee who tested positive for COVID-19, and recommend that the coworkers monitor themselves for symptoms and seek medical treatment as needed.
  4. Do not permit the diagnosed employee to return to work until she has been free of symptoms and cleared by a physician. It may not be possible in the current health climate to expect a return to work certification from a primary care doctor, but you may rely upon a form from a local clinic or an email from such a facility to confirm the employee does not have the virus.
  5. Clean and disinfecting the work facility used by the diagnosed employee. Refer to the CDC’s instructions on Cleaning and Disinfecting Your Facility for specific guidance on disinfecting your work environment.

Step Two: Notify Workers’ Compensation Carrier

Recent passed SB 1159 requires an employer that “knows or reasonably should know” that an employee has tested positive for COVID-19 must report to the workers’ claims administrator in writing—via email or fax—all of the following within three business days:

  • An employee has tested positive. But the employer must not reveal any personally identifiable information about the employee unless the employee has asserted the infection is work-related or has filed a claim form pursuant to Section 5401.
  • The date that the employee tested positive, which is the date the specimen was collected for testing.
  • The specific address of the specific place of employment during the 14-day period preceding the date of the positive test.
  • The highest number of employees who reported to work at the specific place of employment during the 45-day period preceding the last day the employee worked at each specific place of employment.”

Employers also must retroactively report to their carriers any employees who tested positive on or after July 6, 2020, and prior to September 17, 2020.

Following these reporting requirements is of paramount importance—employers that intentionally submit false or misleading information or fail to submit information when reporting can trigger civil penalties in amounts up to $10,000.

Step Three: Notify Cal/OSHA and Local Health Department

  1. If an employee becomes ill with Covid-19 while at work and is admitted as in-patient at a hospital — regardless of the duration of the hospitalization — the illness occurred in a place of employment, so the employer must report this illness to the nearest Cal/OSHA office. Reports must be made immediately, but not longer than eight hours after the employer knows or with diligent inquiry would have known of the serious illness.
  2. In addition, if an employee is hospitalized for at least 24 hours, the employer will have to record the information on the Cal/OSHA Form 300, Log of Work-Related Injuries and Illnesses.
  3. Lastly, if an employee test positive for COVID-19, the employer needs to notify their local health department.

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