The chances that people are exposed to COVID-19 at work increase as they return to the workplace.
We are concerned about this. A September survey40% of U.S. workers said that they are worried about going back to in-person employment because of fears of getting COVID-19, or potentially exposing their loved ones to it.
That’s why knowing what your company will do if a co-worker tests positive for COVID is so important ― not only for stopping the spread of the coronavirus but also for allaying concerns.
It is difficult to know what the rules are, who can be shared with you, and how much information employers will allow.
The federal agency responsible for worker safety is the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. issuedAn emergency temporary standard was put in place last Thursday by private employers. It forces them to expel any employee with a positive CoVID-19 test. This applies regardless of whether or not the person has been vaccinated. isolation requirementsThis is. However, this rule doesn’t require that businesses conduct any contact tracing. For example, reaching out to former employees to find out if they were exposed to the person.
However, workers are entitled to safe work environments. Some have filed lawsuits against their employers because they kept them unaware of COVID cases. gross negligenceThis is a requirement. Companies that care will notify employees anyway, even though OSHA doesn’t require it.
Travis Vance, an employment lawyer with the firm Fisher Phillips who is based in North Carolina and works on the firm’s COVID-19 task force, estimates he’s worked with nearly a thousand companies on how to notify staff about coronavirus exposures.
“The number one type of [COVID-related] lawsuits is ‘My employer knew there was a COVID-19 case in the workplace and didn’t tell me about it,’” Vance said.
“If you are in a workplace and you have a [COVID-19] case, everyone needs to be aware that there was a case.”
You don’t need to ask your employer questions about protocols in the ideal scenario. “It should be stated up front: ‘Should we have a case, this is what we are going to do,’” said Michael Van Dyke, an industrial hygienist who studies workplace exposure assessments at the Colorado School of Public Health.
But of course, that’s not always the case. Below are some best practices for businesses and how to represent your employer in case they don’t follow them.
Management can’t reveal who exposed you to COVID-19 but can give information about timing and symptoms.
The Americans with Disabilities Act requires an employer to maintain the confidentiality of employees’ medical information, including any COVID-19 diagnosis or treatment, your company cannot disclose the names of those who got sick with COVID-19 when workplace exposure happens.
One of the big myths people believe, said Phillip Russell, an employment lawyer for Ogletree Deakins in Tampa, Florida, is that they can’t ask about or share medical information at work because of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA). However, this does not cover private employers, but only specific worksites such as hospitals or administrators with medical information.
“The folks that have handled it the worst way have been those that have bought into the myth that HIPAA prohibits an employer from talking about medical issues in the workplace. It does no such thing,” Russell said. “They don’t understand that not only can they ask medical questions; they should be asking medical questions.”
Russell added that while employers shouldn’t disclose anyone’s personal health information, they can share enough information about coronavirus exposure for others to make informed choices.
Employers have the right to question those with positive results about symptoms and when they developed them. This information can be shared to employees in order to assist with assessing their health risk. “You can talk about timeframes, you can talk about symptoms, you can talk about where they worked, but it’s best not to name the person,” Russell said.
Vance said it’s possible in some cases for the person with COVID-19 to waive their right to confidentiality so that conversations with potentially exposed co-workers can be more frank and detailed, but that’s up to the individual.
It’s critical to find out when your colleague felt symptoms and how close they were to you.
Van Dyke explained that key questions to help assess risk levels are when were you around the person. What was my relationship with this person for? What was the distance between us? Did we wear the same clothes? masksWhat kind and how do you choose?
According to the CDC notes, “An infected person can spread SARS-CoV-2 starting from two days before they have any symptoms.” That means when an employee starts feeling symptoms, it’s key to trace who interacted with them on previous days.
The CDC offers recommendations for business in its recommendations. said it is best for unvaccinated close contacts ― those who were “within 6 feet of an infected person for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period” ― to quarantine for 14 days if they are unvaccinated, telework if possible and self-monitor for symptoms and warning signsThis is. Van Dyke noted that “cumulative total” means that you could have closely interacted with your infected co-worker for three minutes at a time, five times in one day
Those who are exposed but are fully vaccinated don’t have to quarantine, but should get tested 5-7 days after exposure, even if they don’t have symptoms, and should wear a mask indoors for the next two weeks or until they get a negative result, the CDC said.
“It would always be helpful to have more information, but just knowing you are a ‘close contact’ really lays out the actions you need to take next,” Van Dyke said.
“You can talk about timeframes, you can talk about symptoms, you can talk about where they worked, but it’s best not to name the person.”
Vance said that the companies that minimize the spread of COVID-19 best follow a “6-15-48” exposure test based on the CDC guidelines: They remove The workplace should be cleaned and disinfected by infected employees. CDC guidelinesIt is possible to do this. Next, the company interview the person affected to determine if any other employees worked within six feet of the individual for at least 15 minutes within 48 hours before the onset of symptoms. If they have not been fully vaccinated yet, these workers are immediately notified.
“In the long-term, 6-15-48 really saves you several other COVID cases, because you’ve got the close contacts out of the workplace,” Vance said.
It is crucial to notify the authorities quickly. Dena Brevata, chief medical officer for the health care navigation platform Castlight, said that in her experience at work and with clients, “It’s all hands on deck. … We’ve been very fortunate to not have much workplace exposure, but when we do, we notify people immediately. Immediately is within hours of us learning about it.”
It’s reasonable to be informed there was a COVID-19 exposure at work, even if you weren’t a close contact.
Vance said one of the biggest mistakes he sees employers make is not notifying staff who weren’t close contacts, but did work in the same hallway or share a breakroom.
“Those are the folks that are going to end up filing some sort of claim or calling OSHA because they feel like they’re not being communicated with,” he said.
Van Dyke considers it reasonable to give more information to close contacts and to let everyone know that there’s a COVID-19 investigation.
“If you are in a workplace and you have a [COVID-19] case, everyone needs to be aware that there was a case,” he said. “Those people who are close contacts need more information to really assess their own risk, and with the help of the employer, to determine what to do.”
The cost of testing should be covered by the employer.
It’s a best practice for employers to pay for the COVID tests of those who were exposed to the virus on the job, and it may be an obligation under certain state lawsThe ADA.
“It’s not the employee’s fault that they were exposed, so I definitely think the employer should pay for it in that situation,” Vance said.
Van Dyke agreed: “If you are exposed at work and the test costs money, the employer should cover the cost of that test,” he said. “At this point in the pandemic, there should be easy testing available.”
If this isn’t offered, feel empowered to ask for it.