By Samuel Hoffmeister | April 10, 2020
As an essential organization during the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly one that requires employees to work on site, leaders have a responsibility to maintain a safe working environment. That being noted, as more tests for the virus are conducted, more tests will come through positive, and businesses must be prepared with a plan to minimize the impact of an employee being infected.
When an employee on your team notifies you that they’ve tested positive, you much first ask that person which other employees they have been in “close contact” with. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “a person who has been within 6 feet of the infected employee for a prolonged period of time” constitutes “close contact.” Even if the infected employee has been working from home, it’s important to still ask if they’ve had any contact with co-workers, just in case. If the infected person has, in fact, had any close contact with a co-worker, those other employees must be notified without exposing the identity of the infected employee. That guidance is in accordance with confidentiality requirements laid out in the Americans with Disabilities Act and some state laws.
After communicating to employees who have been in close contact with the infected individual, leaders should be prepared for responses of fear and uncertainty about next steps. Chances are, leaders and HR professionals are not medical doctors, so instruct them to connect with their own physicians and to consult the CDC website’s COVID-19 resources.
It is at this point that leadership may decide to notify the entire company staff that somebody within the company has contracted COVID-19. Again, it’s very important to not identify the infected individual orany of the individuals who have come in close contact. Transparency can have a positive impact while maintaining confidentiality.
For more information on taking the right measures the ensure the safety and confidentiality of your employees, several HR and legal resources are available from the CDC, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and the U.S. Department of Labor, which extends to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Beyond those sources, several leading HR-focused organizations—Littler Mendelson, the Society of Human Resource Management, and Nonprofit HR—are providing up-to-date FAQ pages, hosting webinars, and offering other invaluable resources during this time.