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What to Do If an Employee Has COVID-19

When an employee is infected, react quickly and sensitively and take steps to prevent in-office spread

Posted by Ann Snook on November 18th, 2020

When an employee has COVID-19, you might not know where to start. You need to protect that employee’s privacy while informing others of their potential exposure. Business can’t stop because of one sick employee, but you might have to shut down the office temporarily to deep clean.

Don’t panic. Take these steps to keep your workplace running smoothly and safely.


Help Employees Protect Themselves from COVID-19

It’s easy to forget pandemic best practices, especially during a busy day at work. Give employees a reminder about your workplace’s new safety rules and resources by hanging this printable, customizable poster in common areas.

Get the Poster

Ask the Employee to Isolate


First thing’s first: if the employee doesn’t need immediate medical attention, send them home to isolate. Whether they are showing symptoms or not, an employee who tested positive could spread COVID-19 throughout the office, so don’t wait. Ask them to gather their things and leave the workplace as soon as possible.

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), people who have tested positive for COVID-19 should isolate at home for 10 days following the start of their symptoms or positive test and be fever-free for 24 hours. However, your local guidance may require a longer isolation period.


RELATED: Returning to Work After COVID-19: Risks and Responsibilities


Deep Clean the Office


Next, deep clean and sanitize any areas in the workplace that the infected employee used in the past seven days. This includes not only their work station, but also common areas of the office.

Using industrial strength cleaning solutions, disinfect equipment and areas including:

  • Bathrooms (toilets/urinals, stall and bathroom doors, sinks)
  • Employee’s desk and electronics
  • Kitchen appliances and drawer pulls/cupboard handles
  • Printers, copy machines and other shared equipment
  • Workplace doors to the hall/outside
  • Elevators and buttons
  • Anything else the employee was seen to use/touch


Completing this process might require sending the entire office home for the day and even into the next day. If you can’t vacate the areas, at least ask employees to wear face masks and gloves to protect them from the virus and chemical fumes.


Inform Potentially Exposed Employees


When an employee has COVID-19, you’ll need to trace which other employees they could’ve exposed to the virus.

“Speak with that employee privately to find out which of his/her co-workers may have been in close contact with him/her,” says employment and HR attorney Janette Levey-Frisch. Then, “notify those co-workers via email  (or using some other similar method) that [they have] been identified as having been in close contact with an employee that has tested positive for COVID and should quarantine for up to 14 days.”

Be as discreet as possible when disclosing this information. Don’t reveal the infected employee’s name or other identifying details. “If co-workers ask about an absent employee, the proper response is to tell the co-workers that the company respects every employee’s privacy rights and would do the same for that employee (i.e. the one asking questions),” Levey-Frisch says.


RELATED: Can I Force Employees to Return to the Office in a Pandemic?


Record and Report to OSHA (if Necessary)


If the employee contracted COVID-19 at work, the illness should be recorded in your OSHA 300 log along with every other work-related incident.

However, you might not need to report the case to OSHA. According to the Administration’s COVID-19 guidance, employers must report an in-patient hospitalization if it occurs within 24 hours of their exposure to the virus in the workplace. Employers are only required to report a fatality to OSHA if the employee passes away from their work-related COVID-19 within 30 days of infection.

Not sure if the employee caught the virus at work? OSHA guidance explains that:

  • “COVID-19 illnesses are likely work-related when several cases develop among workers who work closely together and there is no alternative explanation.
  • An employee’s COVID-19 illness is likely work-related if it is contracted shortly after lengthy, close exposure to a particular customer or coworker who has a confirmed case of COVID-19 and there is no alternative explanation.
  • An employee’s COVID-19 illness is likely work-related if his job duties include having frequent, close exposure to the general public in a locality with ongoing community transmission and there is no alternative explanation.
  • An employee’s COVID-19 illness is likely not work-related if she is the only worker to contract COVID-19 in her vicinity and her job duties do not include having frequent contact with the general public, regardless of the rate of community spread.
  • An employee’s COVID-19 illness is likely not work-related if he, outside the workplace, closely and frequently associates with someone (e.g., a family member, significant other, or close friend) who (1) has COVID-19; (2) is not a coworker, and (3) exposes the employee during the period in which the individual is likely infectious.”


Read more of OSHA’s guidance determining if infections are work-related (and therefore recordable) here.


Prevent Further Infections


When an employee has COVID-19, the entire workplace is disrupted. To protect your staff and keep the company running smoothly, take measures to prevent future virus cases.

First, review your current pandemic office protocols. Where and when do employees have to wear masks? How often and what do you clean? How many employees work in the office at a time and how far apart do they sit? Do you ask employees to stay home if they’re sick?

Consider making your rules stricter, especially if the employee was infected at work. Allowing remote work and requiring masks everywhere in the office, even temporarily, makes the workplace safer for everyone.

Jon Hyman, a partner in the Labor & Employment group of Meyers, Roman, Friedberg & Lewis suggests that employers:

  1. “Require workers to stay home if they are sick
  2. Follow CDC rules on isolation for those with COVID-19 and quarantine for those within close contact with those with COVID-19
  3. Inform and encourage employees to self-monitor for signs and symptoms of COVID-19 and report any that they have
  4. Mandate face masks or other facial coverings
  5. Establish rules that allow for six feet of physical distancing whenever practical, or install barriers when it is not
  6. Promote frequent and thorough hand washing
  7. Immediately isolate anyone symptomatic at work
  8. Prohibit the use of shared equipment
  9. Consider flexible work arrangements such as staggered shifts and schedules, and telecommuting
  10. Maintain regular housekeeping practices, including routine cleaning and disinfecting of surfaces, equipment, and other elements of the work environment”


Then, inform employees of updated procedures and remind them of current rules. If you’ve been back in the office for awhile (or they’re having a busy day), it’s easy for employees to forget about best practices. Send out an all-staff email outlining these protocols, emphasizing that they should be followed every day, not just when the person feels like it.


To make sure you’re taking all the steps to protect your employees physically and mentally, download our free checklist.

Ann Snook
Ann Snook

Marketing Writer

Ann is a marketing writer at i-Sight Software. She writes about issues related to investigations of fraud, employee misconduct, corporate security, Title IX, ethics & compliance and more.

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