When an employee in a business is diagnosed with Coronavirus, it can cause great concern for all parties. After first checking to see just how your employee is feeling and insuring they are home taking care of themselves, you may find yourself asking what next? How can you keep your business and your teammates safe? What are the government regulations you must comply with and how do you balance that with maintaining good human resource policy?
Before breaking it down into some easy to follow steps, remember it is imperative to address OSHA, safety and compliance concerns first. Then you can address HR andcommunicationsstrategies.
5 Steps to Consider When an Employee Has Been Diagnosed with Covid-19
If you have an employee who is diagnosed with Covid-19,the first steps to take will be driven by the health department. For infectious disease, there are reporting requirements to public health departments. There are protocols in place because of the easy transmission of Coronavirus and just how fast it can spread. Remember that when thehealth department becomes involved, you will begin with apresumptive positive, that means the patient or employee has been diagnosed with Covid-19 but results are still awaiting confirmation from the CDC.
It is not the job of the employer to report anything to the health department. It is the job of the healthcare provider or testing site that gave the Covid-19 diagnosis to then notify the health department, and the health department will get relevant information from the healthcare provider or testing site. That is MANDATED. Healthcare offices who diagnose cases of Covid-19 MUST report all cases to their local health department. Your actions and mandated steps by the health department will also depend upon the jurisdiction in which you find your healthcare practice. For example, we know of a healthcare practice in North Carolina who had an employee who tested positive for Covid-19. They notified all the patients that had been exposed and they ordered them to self-quarantine. But then the same thing happened in Virginia and it was not handled the same way. That client responded to all the employees that would have potentially been exposed, but there was no order for self-quarantine.
In small businesses or healthcare practices, employees will most likely know who the infected individual is. However, confidentiality still applies. You cannot announce that John or Patty was diagnosed with Coronavirus, but youcanlet them know that an employee has been exposed.
Ask the following questions: For those working in the healthcare field—who was in your office for the last two weeks? Remember, Covid-19 has a 2-14 day incubation period. You will need to look at all the patients seen within that time frame. Who has that employee encountered? How long were others exposed? Were they wearing any PPE? By answering these questions, you can begin to put together a plan of action. What actions to take to quarantine your employees is a difficult process. Now is the time to address what actions to take to keep your employees as safe as possible.
It is also important to alert clients and/or patients to let them know that they may have encountered someone who has tested positive for Covid-19. You should not disclose the name of the individual with the Covid-19 diagnosis. Simply alert them to what has happened.
A Real-World Example of What Not to Do
A company had an employee diagnosed with Coronavirus. This company chose to have a company wide video conference call with the ailing employee. The person with Covid-19 was put on the spot. The employer’s goal for the call was to let all employees know that their co-worker was doing well so that things could continue business as usual. As though to say, “See! She is not dying! Things are great!” They allowed the sick individual to talk and then, as we could have predicted, everyone in the company panicked. Suddenly the concern was “Oh my gosh! How did she get this? What is going to happen? Where has she been within the office?”
What was intended to create normalcy instead bred fear. This led to a lot of infighting and blaming the sick employee even though Covid-19 is an equal opportunity offender and not known to target any specific subgroup of people. There was a lot of backlash and bullying towards the employee.
An attempt to normalize a situation that is inherently not normal had dramatic negative consequences.
Considering this real-world example, we also want to take a beat to say ABSOLUTELY adhere to all the OSHA and HIPAA and confidentiality regulations in place. Follow them to the letter. But also show compassion. There is no pandemic or crisis so great that gives us an excuse to lack humanity. Take into consideration the feelings of both the employee with Coronavirus and those exposed. Recognize all parties involved are facing unknowns, fears, and anxiety. Treat all parties with respect.
How you handle a delicate situation can either build or break trust within your market. In the end, your goal is to make sure all your employees and clients, including those with Covid-19, know you want to keep them safe and that you have their best interest in mind.