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How to Handle COVID Exposure in Your Office

Table of Contents

1

Requiring COVID Testing

2

If an Employee Is Sick or Getting a COVID Test

3

When Employees Are Exposed, Potentially Exposed, or Awaiting Test Results

4

Employees Who Are Traveling

5

Paying Employees When They Are Not Working

6

Notifying Staff, Cancelling Patients, and Closing the Office

1

Requiring COVID Testing

2

If an Employee Is Sick or Getting a COVID Test

3

When Employees Are Exposed, Potentially Exposed, or Awaiting Test Results

4

Employees Who Are Traveling

5

Paying Employees When They Are Not Working

6

Notifying Staff, Cancelling Patients, and Closing the Office

Requiring COVID Testing

Can I require employees to be tested for COVID-19?

According to the EEOC, employers may ask employees to submit to COVID-19 symptom screenings before they enter the workplace to determine if they might have the virus.

Employers should ensure that the tests are accurate and reliable. Testing should be done consistently and is not a substitute for social distancing or other precautions.

Please note, however, that if an employee is getting a test at your request then you’ll need to pay for their time getting tested, as well as any out-of-pocket costs for the test.

If you suspect that an employee might have the novel coronavirus, you can ask them to provide doctor certification of their eligibility to return to work. Since you cannot ask them for their medical records, you should not ask to see their COVID test results, whether positive or negative. If an employee chooses to provide you the result, however, they are able to voluntarily do so.

For more guidance on when to have an employee return to work, refer to the following CDC guidance:

Please see this section for information on whether you need to pay an employee who is awaiting test results: “Paying Employees When They Are Not Working.

For more on dealing with potential exposure in your office, see “Notifying Staff, Cancelling Patients, and Closing the Office.

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Can I require employees to take a COVID-19 antibodies test?

No. The EEOC recently issued guidance explaining that employers cannot require employees to take the antibody test before returning to work.

This decision is based on CDC Interim Guidelines saying that antibody test results “should not be used to make decisions about returning persons to the workplace.”

The EEOC says they will continue to closely monitor CDC recommendations, and could update their decision in response to changes in CDC recommendations.

If you have access to an antibodies test, you could certainly tell your team that you are able to make it available if they would like to get it through you. You can also let them know of available testing sites in your area.

Just make clear that this is voluntary, and that antibody testing is not being required as a condition of employment. If there are any costs to the employee that aren’t covered by insurance, you offering to cover those costs would also help motivate your team to submit to the test.

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If an Employee is Sick or Getting a COVID Test

Should I send an employee home if they’re sick or have COVID-19 symptoms?

You can and should ask your employees to self-report any symptoms of the virus (i.e. fever, chills, cough, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, or sore throat) that they have.

If an employee reports having one or more of these symptoms, or if you observe them yourself, the CDC is recommending that the individual stay home (or be sent home) from work. As an employer, you are able to require employees to stay home if they are sick.

This is a public health recommendation and not a requirement, so ultimately the decision is up to you as a business owner. We are hearing from many owners who are having too many staffing problems with sending someone each time they have some symptoms.

We’re hearing from just as many owners who prefer to deal with staffing issues over risking others becoming infected and potentially needing to close down for a period of time.

For help deciding how long to keep them out of the office, see “When should I let the employee come back to work?

You need to make the best decision for your business, based on each situation. Make sure you document your reasoning for sending this employee home, having them telecommute, or allowing them to work.

CEDR Members: Use the “Add a Note” function in your HR Vault to add confidential documentation to an employee’s file.

Not a CEDR Member? Sign up to unlock your FREE HR Vault account!

Please see this section for information on whether you need to pay an employee if you send them home: “Paying Employees When They Are Not Working.

For more on dealing with potential exposure in your office, see “Notifying Staff, Cancelling Patients, and Closing the Office.

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What do I do if an employee is being tested for COVID-19?

If someone is being tested for coronavirus, we recommend keeping them out of work until their results come back. You can keep them out of work until they provide either a copy of their negative test results, or a doctor certification of their eligibility to return to work.

For more guidance on when to have an employee return to work, refer to the following CDC guidance:

Please see this section for information on whether you need to pay an employee who is awaiting test results: “Paying Employees When They Are Not Working.

For more on dealing with potential exposure in your office, including risk assessment protocol, see “Notifying Staff, Cancelling Patients, and Closing the Office.

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What do I do if an employee tests positive for COVID-19?

If an employee tests positive, they should stay home from work until they are cleared to return by their healthcare provider.

Note that you can’t require an employee to provide you with their medical records, so we do not recommend trying to force your employee to provide you a copy of negative test results.

For more guidance on when to have an employee return to work, refer to the following CDC guidance:

Please see this section for information on whether you need to pay an employee who is unable to work due to a positive test result: “Paying Employees When They Are Not Working.

For more on dealing with potential exposure in your office, see “Notifying Staff, Cancelling Patients, and Closing the Office.

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When should I let the employee come back to work?

We recommend that you defer to the employee’s own healthcare provider for this decision. Their provider may or may not have the employee get a COVID-19 test, and ultimately that’s between the provider and the employee.

We do recommend getting something in writing that confirms they’re able to come back to work. Tell the employee that you will need either a doctor’s note clearing them to return to work, or documentation of a negative COVID-19 test.

Just note that you cannot require that they give you a copy of test results, as that is their private medical information. But they can certainly choose to supply it.

If the employee hasn’t sought out medical care, or doesn’t have a doctor’s note, but reports feeling healthy enough to return, we recommend that you refer to the following CDC guidance to determine if the employee is safe to return to work:

When Employees Are Exposed, Potentially Exposed, or Awaiting Test Results

Can I require my employees to self-report if they have come into close contact with someone who is symptomatic or has the virus?

You should ask your employees to self-report if they come into close contact with someone who is symptomatic or confirmed to have the virus.

You’ll want to do a risk assessment to determine if you can have that employee continue to report to work.

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Do I need to send that employee home or to get tested?

You should do a risk assessment to determine whether it’s safe to continue having this individual report to work in the office. There’s no black and white answer to this, unfortunately.

Things to consider include:

  • Whether the employee has any symptoms of the virus (i.e. fever, chills, cough, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, or sore throat). If an employee reports having one or more of these symptoms, or if you observe them yourself, the CDC is recommending that the individual stay home (or be sent home) from work.
  • Length of time the employee was potentially exposed
  • Amount of social distancing and PPE being used at that time
  • Continued potential exposure — if they share a household with the person who may have exposed them to the virus, are they able to isolate from each other?
  • The degree to which this employee will expose others in the workplace — is PPE being used the entire day? Does this employee have close contact with others?

Make sure you document your reasoning for sending this employee home, having them telecommute, or allowing them to work.

CEDR Members: Use the “Add a Note” function in your HR Vault to add confidential documentation to an employee’s file.

Not a CEDR Member? Sign up to unlock your FREE HR Vault account!

Please see this section for information on whether you need to pay an employee who is awaiting test results: “Paying Employees When They Are Not Working.

For more on dealing with potential exposure in your office, see “Notifying Staff, Cancelling Patients, and Closing the Office.

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When can the employee come back to work?

If it turns out that the individual the employee was exposed to tests negative for the virus, then it should be fine for them to return to work.

If the employee was exposed to someone with a confirmed COVID-19 case, the CDC is recommending that “anyone who has close contact with someone with COVID-19 should stay home for 14 days after exposure based on the time it takes to develop illness.”

We also recommend reviewing the following guidance:

Do I pay the employee for this time off?

Please see this section for information on whether you need to pay the employee: “Paying Employees When They Are Not Working.

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Employees Who Are Traveling

My state/city has a travel quarantine order. How does that affect me?

If your area is subject to an order that requires individuals to quarantine after travelling, we highly recommend that you follow those protocols.

Depending on the individual order, there may be penalties for those who do not abide by the restrictions. In addition, if someone in your office contracts COVID-19, they’re likely to place blame on you if you allow someone to come to work when the city/state has implemented travel restrictions.

If the employee has to self-quarantine as a result of one of these orders, and they are unable to complete their work hours from home, then we believe that pay under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) would apply.

The Department of Labor has expressed that FFCRA applies when there are:

…quarantine or isolation orders, as well as shelter-in-place or stay-at-home orders, issued by any Federal, State, or local government authority that cause you to be unable to work (or to telework) even though your employer has work that you could perform but for the order.”

We will note that some of the travel quarantine orders don’t have the clearest language.

Some are causing confusion over whether something is required versus recommended, and some aren’t written in a way that clearly match up to the FFCRA pay requirements.

Out of an abundance of caution, we recommend that you don’t take any chances with potential interpretations. Remember that employment laws are generally interpreted in favor of the employee.

For more details about FFCRA pay during quarantine, see “Paying Employees When They Are Not Working.

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Can I Prevent Employees from Traveling?

Given that you have likely already been closed for a period of time and are currently trying to adapt to an ever-changing “new normal” with your ability to see patients, you certainly have a case for temporarily denying time-off requests. Especially when you know their requested time off may lead to needing them to stay out even longer to quarantine. 

We know you never wanted to be “time-off travel police,” and you aren’t able to control what an employee does on their own time. But, if your employee is a provider and cannot work remotely upon returning from a trip, you may have to deny or un-approve a time off request.

Here are some things to consider while you try to protect your business:

Deny the requested time off.

If an employee wants to take time off from work to go on a trip, you are able to deny that request. Requests for vacation have to be approved in advance, and you are able to deny requests that are unreasonable or create a staffing issue for your team. 

In particular if an employee’s travel would put them under a quarantine order upon their return based on your state or local law, you would have them out of the office even longer.

That means a request for 3 days off could actually end up with them needing to take off over two weeks. You are certainly empowered to deny a time off request based on not being able to accommodate that length of an absence. 

Talk to the employee about post-travel quarantine.

Tell the employee that if they travel out of the area, they need to expect to stay out of the office for an additional 14 days of unpaid time.

You may choose to have an across the board travel policy like this in place, or you might consider quarantine needs on a case by case basis. But, if the employee is making travel plans, they should consider the quarantine to be a given when making those plans.  

The status of the pandemic and recommendations for travel and public health are changing quickly, so you ultimately have to consider what’s going on at the time of the travel. That could look quite different than it did when you first considered the time off request.

Even if a state travel quarantine order is not in place now, one could go into effect while the employee is away (We’ve already seen this happening!). You want to leave no doubt that a self-quarantine at home has to be part of any proposed travel plans. 

Know that this can impact morale.

Keep in mind that denying a time-off request for any reason is likely to lead to decreased employee morale and could even lead to the employee quitting their job. People are going to be upset when they can’t make their preferred plans.

But, know that, as an owner or manager, only you can decide what is best for your business. 

Try to make your team understand that you don’t like denying requests, and are only doing it as a way to keep people healthy and safe and to be able to continue operating the business.

Make sure they know that the pandemic won’t result in them losing any accrued paid time off. Their ability to use it may temporarily be on hold, but in time you’ll be able to approve requests. You may also want to consider allowing them to cash out unused time or have it roll over into the next year. 

Exceptions can happen.

Despite all your best efforts to prevent travel and inform employees that you can’t approve time off, there are likely still going to be instances where you approve time off. An employee may need to attend a funeral or have some other type of unexpected emergency occur.

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Can I make them get tested in order to return to work?

According to the EEOC, employers may ask employees to submit to COVID-19 symptom screenings before they enter the workplace to determine if they might have the virus.

Employers should ensure that the tests are accurate and reliable. Testing should be done consistently and is not a substitute for social distancing or other precautions.

If you suspect that an employee might have the novel coronavirus, you can ask them to provide doctor certification of their eligibility to return to work.

Since you cannot ask them for their medical records, you should not ask to see their COVID test results, whether positive or negative.

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Should they quarantine when they return?

If your area has a travel quarantine order in place, then you would want to follow those rules.

See “My state/city has a travel quarantine order. How does that affect me?” for guidance.

If there is no quarantine order in place for your area, then what to do is really up to you as a business owner.

You may choose to make anyone who traveled delay returning to work until they either test negative for COVID or are quarantined at home for a period of time. You are not required to do so unless your area has a travel quarantine order in place, however.

There’s no hard and fast rule about the length of time a quarantine should be. The prevailing quarantine standard is 14 days, but ultimately how to handle this is up to you.

We highly recommend considering this on a case-by-case basis rather than trying to have a one-size-fits-all policy. The prevalence of the virus in different locations continues to change, and some travel is much safer than others.

Here are some items to take into consideration when making a quarantine decision:
  • Where are they travelling and what are public health experts saying about that location? If they’re travelling to a location that’s considered a “hot spot”, then it’s more risky to allow them to immediately return to work.
  • How are they travelling? Plane travel is much more risky than travelling by themselves in their car.
  • What were they doing during the trip? Household family members staying in a vacation home for a few days is much different than someone visiting friends and going out to eat each day.
  • Did they practice appropriate social distancing protocols?
  • Are they aware of coming into contact with anyone who was symptomatic or who tested positive?
  • Did the employee experience any symptoms during their trip, or are they now upon their return?

Encourage the employee to practice good hygiene on their trip (good advice really for all employees, traveling or not), and encourage them to self-report to you immediately if they find out they have been in close contact with anyone with the virus.

You can use your best judgment from there on whether to have them come back to work or stay at home for a period of time.

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Do I have to pay them during a travel quarantine?

If your area has a travel quarantine order in place, then FFCRA pay likely applies.

See “My state/city has a travel quarantine order. How does that affect me?” for guidance.

Otherwise, if someone is not working because they are under self-quarantine post-travel, you are not required to pay them for this time off. If they have PTO, vacation, or sick time, you should make that available.

Otherwise, if this is a quarantine simply out of abundance of caution, then you are not required to pay for that time.

If the employee ends up being symptomatic, waiting for test results, or under a doctor’s orders to stay home, then FFCRA pay may apply.

See the next section: “Paying Employees When They Are Not Working.

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Paying Employees When They Are Not Working

FFCRA UPDATE: AUGUST 3, 2020

A federal judge has called multiple provisions of the FFCRA into question, including the DOL’s language concerning healthcare exemptions, intermittent leave, FFCRA pay when a business is closed or there is no work available, and leave documentation. We will continue to update our guidance on this subject as it becomes available.

Read a summary of the ruling on our blog.

Do I have to pay employees while they are in quarantine?

The federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) does provide for paid time off for certain coronavirus related reasons through the end of 2020. However, employees are only eligible for FFCRA pay if the reason for their absence involves any of the following:

  1. Being subject to a federal, state, or local quarantine or isolation order related to COVID-19;
  2. Being advised by a healthcare provider to self-quarantine due to COVID-19 concerns;
  3. Experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and seeking medical diagnosis;
  4. Caring for an individual subject to a federal, state, or local quarantine or isolation order or advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine due to COVID-19 concerns;
  5. Caring for their child if the child’s school or place of care is closed or the child’s care provider is unavailable due to public health emergency;
  6. Experiencing any other substantially similar condition specified by the Secretary of Health and Human Services in consultation with the Secretary of the Treasury and the Secretary of Labor.

If any of the above applies to your employee, then they are eligible to take up to two weeks of paid time off.

Note that this is the total amount of emergency sick leave available to them through the end of 2020. Once it’s used up, any additional time off needs can be unpaid.

The sole exception to this is if number five on the list above applies. Then there can be an additional ten weeks of paid family leave offered to help the employee care for their child.

The FFCRA provides 100 percent tax credits for any emergency leave payments you make under the law. The IRS has provided guidance on how you can access this reimbursement, often through your payroll provider.

For more on emergency sick and family leave requirements, please review the detailed summary in our Families First Coronavirus Response Act Guidance and FAQ.

For more step-by-step guidance, the DOL has an interactive tool that walks you through whether someone is eligible for pay.

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What if my situation does not fit into the FFCRA criteria?

If the FFCRA does not apply to a particular situation, then the employee in question could use available vacation, PTO, or sick time that they have accrued.

You should also consider whether your state, city, or county has any mandatory paid sick leave laws. Otherwise, the time off can be unpaid.

Again, FFCRA pay ONLY applies if one of the above criteria is met. This means that FFCRA pay does NOT apply to the following common scenarios:

  • The employee is quarantining at your direction after they travelled and there is no state or city travel quarantine requirement
  • The employee is quarantining due to potential exposure, but is not seeking medical care and is not under a doctor’s order to stay home
  • The employee is high risk or fearful of coming to work, but does not have a doctor’s order to self-quarantine
  • The employee is choosing not to use available childcare (be careful about making any presumptions about this — daycare may be open but it doesn’t mean the employee is able to get their child into it)

For more information on emergency paid leave provided under FFCRA, check out our FFCRA Blog.

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Can I Exempt Myself From FFCRA Requirements?

According to the law, healthcare providers (including dentists) and small business owners with less than 50 employees may be able to exempt themselves from the paid-leave requirements put forth by the FFCRA.

That said, we generally recommended that employers resist the temptation to exempt themselves from these requirements and encourage them to pay out for all forms of emergency leave offered under the law. Here’s why:

You Get That Money Back, Anyway

The FFCRA provides 100 percent tax credits for any emergency leave payments you make under the law.

So, if you decide to pay out for emergency leave at any point, you can expect to get all of that money back.

The IRS has provided guidance on how you can access this reimbursement, often through your payroll provider.

Not Paying Could Cause Employees to Hide COVID Symptoms or Exposure Events

If your employees know that they will not be paid for time off should they find themselves needing to quarantine and/or seek medical treatment, they may try to hide their symptoms and will be less likely to self-report symptoms or exposure events since it will mean a loss of income for them.

Thus, instead of one person being out of the office for a few days while awaiting test results, you may end up having all of your staff out because they became infected by a sick person who continued to come to work.

Not Paying Won’t Change Your Employee’s Inability to Work

If you choose not to provide FFCRA pay, that does not mean your employee will suddenly be available to come to work. They are still going to be sick, need to quarantine, or not have childcare.

So, by not paying leave, not only will you still find yourself short-staffed, but you will also likely be dealing a blow to team morale. Further, you may find yourself needing to hire a new employee if that person is upset enough by your decision to refuse to come back at all.

Not Paying FFCRA Leave Could Send a Negative Signal to Your Team

If your employees know that you could pay FFCRA leave without detriment to your business, not providing those payments could lead them to start looking for a new job or, at the least, could have a negative impact on employee morale.

Your Exemption May Not Hold Up

Where the “healthcare exemption” under the FFCRA has been clarified, The Department of Labor (DOL) has provided very little guidance on what qualifies small businesses as exempt from the law except to say that business with less than 50 employees “may be exempt.”

If you are claiming a small business exemption, all you can do is keep records as to why you think you qualify and hope that nobody raises a complaint about it later.

Further, the DOL is already catching heat for providing that exemption in the first place, so the guidance and restrictions related to FFCRA exemption may well change in the near future.

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Notifying Staff, Cancelling Patients, and Closing the Office

Why an Investigation and Risk Assessment Are Necessary

Once you’ve decided what to do about an employee who is symptomatic, getting tested, or who has tested positive for COVID-19 (see the previous section of this guide), you also have to consider what to do about your business and others who may have been in contact with that individual.

If there was any potential COVID-19 exposure in your office, what you need to do depends upon the public health guidance in place at the time of the event, as well as your own risk assessment. Here at CEDR, we get questions everyday from members wanting to know if they need to close the office, inform the team, alert patients, etc.

What we will tell you to do is review the above resources and go through the full investigation and risk assessment process below. You need to consider all the facts of the situation and evaluate the level of risk. There are no black and white rules around this, so you will need to use your best business judgment.

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If You Need an Immediate Answer on What to Do

If you want help making a quick decision before working through the rest of the guidance in this section, we highly recommend you refer to these CDC resources, which have charts recommending what to do in response to specific situations:

CEDR Members can also download a COVID-19 “Investigation and Response Form” in the Members Area to help guide you through making decisions.

Conducting an Investigation

CEDR Members can download a COVID-19 “Investigation and Response Form” in the Members Area to help guide you through making decisions.

Note that we are providing the following in a numbered order, but this is just our recommended guidance based on currently known information.

You may want to take additional steps, and you may want to do things out of this proposed order, depending on your circumstances.

1. Gather all the details of what happened.

Make sure you are clear on what you are looking into.

Someone may be getting tested, may be symptomatic, may have concerns about exposure in their home, etc. Identify what the issue is and everything you know about it, including the dates of when the potential issue began and the dates on which the person was in the office after that initial incident.

Make a determination of the level of risk for the specific situation. Here are proposed considerations, though you should ensure you consider everything relevant to your situation and business:

2. Determine if others in the office are experiencing symptoms.

You’re likely already doing temperature and symptom checks for each employee, each day, and taking appropriate action. But be sure to take another look at those records, and be observant about those in the office.

3. Investigate the potential exposure to others in the office.

There’s no way to make a decision about whether anyone in the office was exposed, should be notified, or should be sent home, without evaluating what actually happened.

Take some time to essentially create a timeline of the potentially infected individual’s interaction with others in the office.

  • Identify all dates and times when the individual was in the office during the potential exposure period.
  • Identify each person that they were in contact with
  • How long they were in contact
  • Distance they were from each other
  • Level of PPE each person was wearing

Be sure to do this in a realistic, practical way.

You may be requiring that employees wear masks and eye protection at all times but, if you know that they regularly take that protection off and sit at a table to have lunch together, they were likely unprotected during the workday and potentially exposed.

4. Investigate the impact of the person’s presence in the office.

Current studies show that the coronavirus can be present on surfaces, though the risk of infection from surfaces is currently believed to be low.

However, you do want to take a look at what areas and equipment this person was in contact with so you can determine any cleaning and sanitation needs, as well as the level of risk that someone else had contact with those same surfaces.

Identify what the individual was doing in the office — what they came into contact with, the extent to which those items are used by others, what type of PPE was being used, and the extent to which those items are sanitized.

5. Find out if your state, city, or county has recommendations or mandates on what to do.

Before even making your own judgment call on what to do, it’s important to be sure you are being consistent with the expert recommendations for your area.

We recommend calling your public health department and telling them the relevant details of what happened. Depending on your area, they may or may not have specific recommendations on taking further action in regard to your team and patients, as well as cleaning and/or closing the office.

Your state board or association may have their own guidelines or recommendations, as well. Check in with those entities.

6. Review the current guidance being issued on a national level.

These guidance materials continue to change, so we recommend bookmarking these and reviewing them fresh each time something comes up.

If you are a healthcare employer, the following CDC guidance includes a chart detailing what work restrictions are recommended based on different levels of potential exposure:

Risk Assessment and Work Restrictions for Healthcare Personnel with Potential Exposure to COVID-19

There are certain heightened concerns about some risks in dental practices, so, if you are a dental employer, we also recommend reviewing the following:

If you are not a healthcare employer, exposure risks and restrictions may be lessened, so it is recommended that you review this CDC guidance which also includes a detailed chart about various scenarios:

Public Health Guidance for Community-Related Exposure

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Conducting a Risk Assessment and Making a Plan

Once you have all the details from your investigation, you can make a decision as to what you need to do.

Potential Exposure of Patients, Customers, and Other Visitors to the Office

Remember that your state or national associations, and/or public health departments may have their own protocols around this, and you should defer to that information when it is available.

Otherwise, you need to be looking at the extent to which the patient, customer, or visitor was in direct contact or close proximity with the individual in question and the level of PPE and precautions being taken.

Most businesses are taking extra precautions to ensure that contact with a visitor is limited and PPE is being used. Therefore, in most cases there likely won’t be a need to cancel appointments or contact those who were previously in the office.

If you do need to inform someone of potential exposure, remember that you cannot disclose the identity of the infected/at risk individual(s) unless they give you permission to do so.

Potential Exposure of the Rest of Your Team

Remember that your state or national associations, and/or public health departments may have their own protocols around this, and you should defer to that information when it is available.

Otherwise, you need to consider all the facts of your investigation. If employees were covered up in PPE all day and did not share much equipment, then you likely don’t need to send them home.

If there isn’t a confirmed positive test, you may not need to let them know what’s going on with their coworker.

Be very careful and honest with yourself about this. If someone took off their mask, gloves, and gown and ate lunch sitting across from the individual who may be infected, you probably need to send that employee home, as well.

If you do need to inform someone of potential exposure, remember that you cannot disclose the identity of the infected/at risk individual(s) unless they give you permission to do so.

Closing the Office

We are not seeing many businesses needing to shut down their offices due to potential COVID-19 exposure.

Note that this is because the businesses are taking sufficient health and safety precautions, and are keeping people out of work when they are symptomatic, have been travelling, or if they came into contact with someone when they were not wearing PPE.

If you find a high-risk situation in your office based on patient or employee activity, you may have to make the unfortunate decision to close. If you feel this might be the case, a call to your county or state public health department is warranted.

For more on office closures, read the section of our Original Coronavirus Resource Page, called “What if My Office Needs to Close?”

Cleaning the Office

An extra cleaning is a good precaution to take if there was any risk of exposure.

Review the CDC’s guidance on Cleaning and Disinfection for Community Facilities for recommended protocols. Make sure you’ve inventoried where the person was in the office and what they were doing so you know what may be in real need of some extra cleaning.

The CDC has also provided specific time-based recommendations on cleaning the office:

In most cases, you do not need to shut down your facility. If it has been less than 7 days since the sick employee has been in the facility, 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.
  • During this waiting period, open outside doors and windows to increase air circulation in these areas.

If it has been 7 days or more since the sick employee used the facility, additional cleaning and disinfection is not necessary. Continue routinely cleaning and disinfecting all high-touch surfaces in the facility.

Incident Reporting

If applicable to your business, follow the appropriate OSHA recordkeeping requirements.

If there is any reason to believe that someone was infected due to workplace exposure, notify your workers’ compensation carrier.

Some states are already requiring worker’s compensation carriers to provide coverage related to COVID-19, and other states will likely pass legislation that could force them to cover under certain circumstances.

With that in mind, we are advising everyone to report potential exposure events to their carriers and then, if something changes or becomes retroactive, you and the employee will be in the best possible position.

Ultimately, if the employee did try to make a claim that they were exposed to the virus in your office, you would need to run it through your worker’s comp insurance. You will therefore simply want to put them on notice of the possibility of a claim should an incident occur.

Note that your report just puts the carrier on notice — it does not create a claim.

But, if you were to terminate someone or take some action against an employee who wanted to file a claim, they could claim that action was a form of retaliation due to them having a potential work injury claim. The fact that you went ahead and self-reported the incident to your carrier is great evidence in your defense.

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This post was updated on August 4, 2020; originally published July 10, 2020.

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