While federal, state and local guidelines have varied widely during the pandemic, HR leaders have been mapping out plans for reopening that involve some tricky areas of compliance. The best advice is to understand and follow the guidelines that are in place for your location, but we do have answers to some commonly asked questions about bringing your employees back to work amid COVID-19.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) gave employers the green light to take employees’ temperatures to try and ward off the spread of the coronavirus in guidance updated on March 18. However, the CDC advises that individuals may have a normal temperature yet still test positive for COVID-19 and that not everyone with a high temperature may have the coronavirus. An employee’s temperature is only one factor to be considered in assessing risk.
Most federal and state agencies recommend against oral thermometers and suggest using no-touch or “little touch” methods of taking temperatures. Employers who do not employ an occupational nurse should assign one person to do the screening at the commencement of a shift. That person should wear protective clothing, be screened in advance to make sure they are not ill, and should require that employees maintain social distancing while waiting for the test to be administered.
Employees should be considered to be “on the clock” while waiting for and being administered the test. Employees sent home due to symptoms should also be paid for the time out of work, if possible.
Finally, confidentiality is crucial for compliance. The person assigned to do the screening and record results should be advised not to share them, records of screening results should be maintained in confidential medical files and not in personnel records, and the results of screenings should not be shared with co-workers.
According to OSHA’s COVID-19 guidelines, in workplaces where exposure to COVID-19 may occur, prompt identification and isolation of potentially infectious individuals is a critical first step in protecting workers, visitors, and others at the work site.
First, wherever feasible, immediately isolate individuals suspected of having COVID-19. For example, move potentially infectious individuals to isolation rooms. On an aircraft, if possible and without compromising aviation safety, move potentially infectious individuals to seats away from passengers and crew. In other work sites, move potentially infectious individuals to a location away from workers, customers, and other visitors and with a closed door, if possible.
Next, take steps to limit the spread of the individual’s infectious respiratory secretions, including by providing them a facemask and asking them to wear it, if they can tolerate doing so. Note that a surgical mask on a patient or other sick person should not be confused with PPE for a worker; the surgical mask acts to contain potentially infectious respiratory secretions at the source (i.e., the person’s nose and mouth).
After isolation, the next steps depend on the type of workplace. In most types of workplaces (i.e., those outside of healthcare):
In healthcare workplaces:
An important mention is that the CDC defines close contact as being within about 6 feet of an infected person while not wearing recommended PPE. Close contact also includes instances where there is direct contact with infectious secretions while not wearing recommended PPE. Close contact generally does not include brief interactions, such as walking past a person.
The White House Opening Up America Guidelines states that, during any phase of reopening, employers must develop and implement appropriate policies in accordance with federal, state, and local regulations and guidance. Additionally, employers must be able to:
The CDC makes the following recommendations:
Sick employees should follow steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Employees should not return to work until they meet the criteria to discontinue home isolation and have consulted with a healthcare provider.
Employers should not require a sick employee to provide a negative COVID-19 test result or healthcare provider’s note to return to work. Employees with COVID-19 who have stayed home can stop home isolation and return to work when they have met one of the sets of criteria found here.
Employees may have been exposed if they are a “close contact” of someone who is infected, which is defined as being within about 6 feet of a person with COVID-19 for a prolonged period of time:
All other employees should self-monitor for symptoms and wear cloth face coverings when in public. If they develop symptoms, they should notify their supervisor and stay home.
In most cases, you do not need to shut down your facility. But do close off any areas used for prolonged periods of time by the sick person:
Follow the CDC cleaning and disinfection recommendations:
In addition to cleaning and disinfecting, employers should determine which employees may have been exposed to the virus and the need to take additional precautions.
Collect information about the worker’s contacts among co-workers for the period starting 2 days prior to symptom onset to identify other workers who could be considered exposed.
If a worker is confirmed infected, inform fellow workers of their possible exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace but maintain confidentiality as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The employer should instruct fellow workers about how to proceed based on the CDC Public Health Recommendations for Community-Related Exposure.
To help employers reopen safely during the COVID-19 crisis, Cisive developed a suite of solutions to help organizations monitor COVID-19 antibody and immunization status, conduct contact tracing and self-attestation, and streamline COVID-19 compliance.
If you have more questions about returning to work amid the coronavirus pandemic, the Cisive team can help. Work with your Cisive customer success team member to help connect you to more valuable resources and support. We’re happy to help you during this uncertain time. Most importantly, check with your legal team and be sure to research any specific state regulations about COVID-19 and the workplace.
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