An employee tested positive for COVID-19? Take these steps next

Stephen Scott
BridgeTower Media Newswires

It is my hope that this seven-step guide will provide employers some stress reduction in the event of a worker testing positive.

It is my hope that this seven-step guide will provide employers some stress reduction in the event of a worker testing positive.
Instruct the infected employee to remain at home until released by a physician or public health official. If a doctor’s note releasing the employee is unavailable, follow CDC guidelines on when an employee may discontinue self-isolation.

It is my hope that this seven-step guide will provide employers some stress reduction in the event of a worker testing positive.
After learning one employee (or more) has been diagnosed, act quickly to have the person(s) identify all other employees and/or third parties who might have been exposed during the infectious period. Ask the infected employee to identify all individuals who fall in the “6-15-48” zone: those who worked within six feet for(15 minutes or more during the 48-hour period before the onset of symptoms.

Address employees who were  in close proximity
Notify all noncritical infrastructure workers who were in close proximity that they may have been exposed and send them home for 14 days; instruct them to self-monitor for symptoms, avoid contact with high-risk individuals, and seek medical attention if symptoms develop. These employees may qualify for Families First Coronavirus Response Act leave.
The CDC has developed alternative guidelines for critical infrastructure workers. Asymptomatic employees who have been directly exposed  can continue to work if certain guidelines are met.

Recording, reporting and investigating  work-relatedness
OSHA recently unveiled new requirements for covered employers to make an increased effort to determine whether they need to record and report confirmed coronavirus cases in the workplace. To ensure compliance, document efforts to determine if the positive COVID-19 case was work-related. In most situations, after learning of an employee’s COVID-19 illness:

1. Ask infected employee how he or she believes the illness was contracted;

2. while respecting  privacy, discuss his or her work and out-of-work activities that may have resulted in contraction of the illness; and

3. Review work environment for potential COVID-19 exposure.

When there is no alternative explanation, a case is likely work-related.

Examples include:

• when several cases develop among workers who work closely together;

• if it is contracted after lengthy, close exposure to a customer or co-worker who has a confirmed case; or

• if an employee’s job duties include frequent, close exposure to the public in a locality with widespread transmission.

If a reasonable and good faith inquiry is made but cannot determine whether it is more likely than not that exposure in the workplace played a role, OSHA says the illness does not need to be recorded. Always check if there is new local and state guidance.

Clean/disinfect the  workplace
Follow CDC guidelines for cleaning and disinfecting all areas (offices, bathrooms and common areas) used by the ill person, with focus especially on frequently touched surfaces.
Ensure workers are trained on the hazards of the cleaning chemicals used in the workplace and maintain a written program in accordance with OSHA’s Hazard Communication Standard. Download the manufacturer’s Safety Data Sheet (SDS) and share with employees as needed, and make sure the cleaners used are on the company’s list of workplace chemicals used as part of a Hazard Communication program.

Determine if other employees and third parties should be notified
Following confirmation of a COVID-19 case, and as recommended by the CDC, notify all employees (access sample forms at who work in the location or area where the employee works. Notification should be done without revealing any confidential medical information such as the name of the employee. An employer may obtain the employee’s signed authorization to disclose his or her diagnosis. Also notify any third parties who may have been exposed by the infected employee.

Inform employees and third parties of actions taken, including requiring employees who worked closely to the infected worker to go home (if a nonessential business), and sanitizing and cleaning. Include a reminder about seeking medical attention if they exhibit symptoms. The failure of an employer to notify employees at its location of a confirmed COVID-19 case may be a violation of OSHA’s general duty clause, which requires all employers to provide employees with a safe work environment.

Determine if the employee/others are eligible  for paid time off
Finally, determine if the infected employee is eligible for paid time off under company policy, local, state or federal guidelines.

If an employer is covered under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), the infected employee may be eligible for emergency paid sick leave. Other potentially exposed employees may also be eligible for emergency paid sick leave or other leave as provided in a company handbook. Be sure to maintain appropriate documentation for employees on leave.


Stephen Scott is an associate in the Portland office of Fisher Phillips, a national firm dedicated to representing employers’ interests in all aspects of workplace law. Contact him at 503-205-8094 or