As the pandemic continues on, it’s hard for employers to know what they should do if a worker shows up sick to work. Should you send them home? Should they get tested? What about the rest of the crew? Keeping up with the latest requirements can take a lot of time.
The CDC has provided some recommendations for employers for dealing with sick employees, whether they have COVID or not. Based on these recommendations, we have provided some guidelines to help you know what to do if an employee is sick.
COVID symptoms are similar to flu, cold, and allergy symptoms, so it can be hard to tell what to pay attention to. The known potential symptoms of COVID are:
- fever or chills
- shortness of breath
- muscle and body aches
- loss of taste or smell
- sore throat
- congestion or runny nose
- nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
If a worker comes to work with or develops symptoms during the day, you should separate them from other employees, customers, and visitors and then send them home. A worker who has symptoms should stay home for at least 10 days, and at least 24 hours after their fever is gone and other symptoms have improved, whichever is longer. A person with severe symptoms could be out for up to 20 days or more.
As an employer you should not require a sick employee to provide a COVID test result or a provider’s note to validate their illness, qualify for sick leave, or return to work. This puts a strain on already busy medical providers, who may not be able to provide the information in a timely manner.
If you require testing before a worker returns to work, they should have two negative tests more than 24 hours apart before they are allowed to return.
What to do if an employee is suspected or confirmed to have COVID
Once the sick employee has been sent home, close off any work areas they used, wait 24 hours if possible, then clean and disinfect the area. Waiting reduces the chance that workers cleaning the area will catch the virus. If an area can’t be closed for 24 hours, close it as long as possible before cleaning.
Determine which employees or customers may have been exposed and follow the procedures below to contact them.
How to let other employees and customers know they may have been exposed
If an employee is confirmed to have COVID, you must inform other employees and customers while keeping the identity of the sick employee confidential. This is required as per the American with Disabilities Act (ADA).
You may be asked to work with your local health department to identify other employees and visitors that may have to take additional precautions, like quarantining, because they came in contact with the sick employee.
What to do if an employee has been exposed
A person can become exposed to the virus if they’re in close contact, less than 6 feet apart, with an infected person. If you find out that an employee was exposed to COVID, either on the job or at home, you should treat them like they have the virus.
If an employee has been exposed and has symptoms like those listed above, they should self-isolate and monitor their symptoms. If they become severe, they should seek medical attention as needed. The employee must stay home for at least 10 days, and at least 24 hours after their fever is gone and other symptoms have improved, whichever is longer. A person with severe symptoms could be out for up to 20 days or more.
If an employee has been exposed and they do not have symptoms, they should remain home and social distance for 14 days.
All others that came in contact with the exposed person should self-monitor and wear a mask to protect others.
Do employees need to provide test results or a doctor’s note to return to work?
Due to the influx of sick patients, employers should not require a sick employee to provide a test result or a provider’s note to validate their illness, qualify for sick leave, or return to work. Medical professionals are busy treating patients and can’t be relied on to get the information in a timely manner.
Use of sick leave
Some employers are legally required to provide paid sick leave for their employees, depending on the state that the company is looking located in and the size of the company. Sick leave should be made available for those who are sick, think they are sick, or who have to care for a sick loved one.
It’s important during this pandemic to encourage employees to stay home when they don’t feel well. Because of the financial burden it can cause families, workers may attempt to come to work when they are sick. Providing paid sick leave helps eliminate this burden and will encourage employees to take care of themselves when they are ill. It also keeps everyone around them healthy.
The cost of not providing sick leave could be much higher than providing this benefit. Lost time and lost work due to sick crews could be detrimental to a project. Therefore, employers are encouraged to develop a sick leave program that will encourage their workers to take care of themselves and their coworkers.
Protection and prevention
Employers need to protect their workers, customers, and visitors as much as possible from the COVID virus. As the vaccine becomes more available, this should get easier. For now, employers need to provide paid sick leave to their employees and encourage them to stay home if they don’t feel well.
For the latest information on COVID protocols for employers, check out the CDC COVID-19 webpage.