Even though Fed-OSHA’s emergency temporary standard for COVID-19 has been put on hold by courts due to its mask mandate, sections governing actions employers must take if an employee tests positive should be heeded.
In fact, legal experts say that employers should go beyond the requirements of the standard to reduce their liability. With no exceptions, employers should remove any employee who tests positive for COVID-19 from the workplace until their condition has improved and they are no longer able to spread the virus.
There are a number of steps you should take to protect the rest of your staff.
Send them home
Immediately upon learning that an employee has contracted COVID-19, they should be sent home to quarantine unless they have serious symptoms.
You should require all employees to notify you if they test positive for COVID-19. Even people that do not show symptoms can spread the virus, and those who are vaccinated can contract and spread it.
Notify other personnel
When you learn that an employee has contracted COVID-19 and likely did so at work, within one business day you should retrace their activities and notify in writing any co-workers who may have come into contact with them in the days prior to their diagnosis.
The standard for that is anyone who came within 6 feet of the employee for 15 minutes or more two days prior to the positive test.
All of those you have identified as possibly exposed should be tested. Make testing available at no cost to employees and during working hours to all exposed employees, except:
- Asymptomatic workers who are fully vaccinated, and
- Employees who recently recovered from COVID-19 and have not developed symptoms since returning to work.
Exclude any new COVID-19 cases discovered during testing as well as exposed employees from the workplace until they are no longer an infection risk. Exposed employees who are fully vaccinated or who recently recovered from COVID-19 and have no symptoms do not need to be excluded.
Bring them back
The question of when to bring an employee who tested positive back is not set in stone, as times vary from person to person in terms of how long they can spread the disease.
You can bring a worker who had mild symptoms back if:
- The employee receives a negative result on a COVID-19 nucleic acid amplification test (NAAT) following a positive result on a COVID-19 antigen test.
- The licensed doctor recommends that the employee can return to work, or
- The employee meets the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s return-to-work criteria:
- At least 10 days have passed since symptoms first appeared.
- At least 24 hours have passed with no fever without fever-reducing medication, or
- Other symptoms of COVID-19, such as loss of taste and smell, are improving. Such symptoms may persist for weeks or months and need not delay the end of isolation.
For people with severe symptoms, 20 days may be required before they are no longer contagious.
People who tested positive with COVID-19 but were asymptomatic may return to work 10 days after their test, assuming they do not develop symptoms in the meantime.
As COVID-19 continues to spread in our communities, it’s imperative that employers isolate staff who test positive to reduce the spread at work and also limit their liability.
Employers that don’t take action, can be hit by significant penalties and even open themselves up to civil litigation if they were negligent in protecting their workers.