6 Commonly Asked HR Questions About Return to Work and COVID-19

August 4, 2020 | Shannon Shoemaker

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.


1. Employee temperatures: how do we administer these?

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.


2. In OSHA instances where someone tests positive, how do we address?

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):

    • Isolated individuals should leave the work site as soon as possible. Depending on the severity of the isolated individual’s illness, he or she might be able to return home or seek medical care on his or her own, but some individuals may need emergency medical services.


In healthcare workplaces:

    • If possible, isolate patients suspected of having COVID-19 separately from those with confirmed cases of the virus to prevent further transmission, including in screening, triage, or healthcare facilities.
    • Restrict the number of personnel entering isolation areas, including the room of a patient with suspected or confirmed COVID-19.
    • Protect workers in close contact* with the sick person by using additional engineering and administrative controls, safe work practices, and PPE.
    • Sick workers should leave the work site as soon as possible. Depending on the severity of the isolated worker’s illness, he or she might be able to return home or seek medical care on his or her own, but some individuals may need emergency medical services.


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.


3. If an employee tests positive, do they quarantine only or do they require a negative test?

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:

    • Monitor workforce for indicative symptoms. Do not allow symptomatic people to physically return to work until cleared by a medical provider.
    • Develop and implement policies and procedures for workforce contact tracing following an employee COVID-19 positive test.


The CDC makes the following recommendations:

    • If an employee is confirmed to have COVID-19, employers should inform fellow employees of their possible exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace but maintain confidentiality as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
    • Employees who test positive for COVID-19 (using a viral test, not an antibody test) should be excluded from work and remain in home isolation if they do not need to be hospitalized. Employers should provide education to employees on what to do if they are sick.
    • Employers may need to work with local health department officials to determine which employees may have had close contact with the employee with COVID-19 and who may need to take additional precautions, including exclusion from work and remaining at home.
    • Most workplaces should follow the Public Health Recommendations for Community-Related Exposure and instruct potentially exposed employees to stay home for 14 days, telework if possible, and self-monitor for symptoms.


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.


4. What if a family member or someone they’ve been in contact tests positive?

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:

    • Potentially exposed employees who have symptoms of COVID-19 should self-isolate and follow CDC recommended steps.
    • Potentially exposed employees who do not have symptoms should remain at home or in a comparable setting and practice social distancing for 14 days.


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.


5. Do we have to shut our offices down if someone tests positive?

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:

    • 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.


Follow the CDC cleaning and disinfection recommendations:

    • Clean dirty surfaces with soap and water before disinfecting them.
    • To disinfect surfaces, use products that meet EPA criteria for use against SARS-Cov-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and are appropriate for the surface.
    • Be sure to follow the instructions on the product labels to ensure safe and effective use of the product.
    • You may need to wear additional personal protective equipment (PPE) depending on the setting and disinfectant product you are using.


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.


6. When do we notify employees when there is a positive test?

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.

    • SAFE19 COVID-19 Clearinghouse provides a secure, paperless, central repository specifically designed to handle the uploading, validation, and compliance reporting on COVID-19 test and immunization data.
    • CONTACT19 is a contact tracing solution that is built on decades of screening experience, providing you with a contact tracing program that is tailored to meet your organization’s needs.
    • ACCESS19 allows businesses to resume daily operations while keeping their workforce safe by streamlining COVID-19 self-attestation and status validation.


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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