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What to Do When an Employee Tests Positive for COVID-19

Mon June 29, 2020 Publications

This checklist for employers is based on recently issued guidance from CDC, OSHA, and EEOC on how to respond upon learning an employee is infected with COVID-19.

1. Maintain the employee’s confidentiality.

  • Do not identify to others the infected employee’s name or other identifying information. Confidentiality is required by the ADA.

2. Send the employee home.

  • Per CDC guidelines, the infected employee should not return to the workplace until they have met the criteria to discontinue home isolation and consulted with a healthcare provider and state or local health department.

3. Determine if the case must be recorded for OSHA.

  • Under OSHA recordkeeping requirements, COVID-19 is a recordable illness if it is confirmed and work-related for employers in higher-risk industry classifications with more than 10 employees and for employers in certain lower-risk industries if OSHA has asked the employer in writing to keep injury and illness records.
  • Use reasonable efforts to ascertain whether the infection is work-related. Generally ask the infected employee about how they believe they contracted COVID-19, what work and nonwork activities might have led to exposure, and whether COVID-19 exposure in the workplace was possible due to the employee’s job duties, exposure to the public, or exposure to other employees who have tested positive. Avoid extensive medical inquiries. As new information develops, this investigation should be updated.
  • Standardize this investigative process by using a prepared list of questions or points. Such records must be kept confidential.

4. Determine if the infection is reportable to OSHA.

  • All employers must promptly report to OSHA any work-related illness, including COVID-19, that results in in-patient hospitalization or death. As new information develops, reconsider this determination.

5. Initiate contact tracing to determine who else was potentially exposed.

  • The CDC has determined that “potential exposure” risk begins when someone is within 6 feet of the infected person for 15 minutes or more, noting the infected person can spread the virus for 48 hours before the onset of symptoms.
  • The employer should identify who falls within this “6-15-48 rule” by questioning the infected employee and coworkers. When speaking with coworkers for purpose of contact tracing, the employer may give general information about where the exposure may have occurred—what shift, what job site, within what team of employees—but must not identify the infected employee.
  • Employers should standardize this investigative process by using a prepared list of questions or points. Such records must be kept confidential.
  • Follow up with these employees to see if any of them show symptoms or are diagnosed with COVID-19. If so, more contract tracing should occur to determine potential exposure.

6. Notify employees who were potentially exposed and send them home.

  • In doing so, do not identify the infected employee.
  • According to the CDC, potentially exposed persons should stay home and social distance for 14 days and self-monitor for symptoms. If symptoms develop, they should follow CDC recommended steps and contact their healthcare provider.
  • Potentially exposed employees should not return to the workplace until they have met the criteria to discontinue home isolation and consulted with a healthcare provider and state or local health department.

7. Clean the facility.

  • In most cases, there is no need to shut down the workplace.
  • Close off areas used for prolonged periods of time by the sick person. Wait 24 hours before cleaning and disinfecting to minimize potential for other employees being exposed to respiratory droplets. If waiting 24 hours is not feasible, wait as long as possible.
  • During this waiting period, open outside doors and windows to increase air circulation in these areas, if feasible.
  • Clean dirty surfaces with soap and water before disinfecting them. To disinfect surfaces, use products that meet EPA criteria for use against SARS-Cov-2external, the virus that causes COVID-19, and are appropriate for the surface. Always wear gloves and gowns appropriate for the chemicals being used when you are cleaning and disinfecting.

8. Safely return employees back to work.

  • If a previously infected employee is ready to return to work, the ADA allows the employer to require a physician’s note certifying fitness for duty. The ADA also allows employers to administer COVID-19 testing to employees before they enter the workplace. Updated guidance from the EEOC, however, prohibits employers from requiring employees to take antibody or serology tests to determine.

9. Provide employees paid sick leave as required under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.

  • The Act requires covered employers to provide two weeks (up to 80 hours) of paid sick leave at the employee’s regular rate of pay where the employee is unable to work and has tested positive.
  • Leave is also required due to potential exposure where the employee has been advised to self-quarantine by a health care provider or is experiencing symptoms and seeking medical diagnosis.
  • The Act generally applies to employers with less than 500 employees, and to their employees who have been employed at least 30 days.
  • Covered employers qualify for dollar-for-dollar reimbursement through tax credits.
  • Employers should standardize this process by using a form for the employee to request and provide sufficient documentation for such leave.

10. Follow industry-specific guidelines.

  • Follow the rules and regulations of CDC, OSHA and other government agencies that may regulate your particular industry and report the infection to those agencies if required.

We continue to closely monitor the situation and update this information to provide the latest workplace and legal developments related to Covid19. We expect your questions and our answers will change as the situation develops. For answers to your specific questions and for the newest developments, please visit our website at and contact us at Donnelly + Gross at 352-374-4001 or directly by email:

Paul Donnelly
Laura Gross
Jung Yoon
Jim Brantley
Cole Barnett

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*This publication is for general information only and intended for clients and friends of Donnelly + Gross. It should not be relied upon as legal advice as the law related to each situation varies. Moreover, workplace law related to Covid19 is dynamic and changing daily. The sharing of this information does not establish a client relationship.