Employees with dry cough, unusual tiredness, fever, stomach aches and pains, nasal congestion, runny nose, sore throat and diarrhea should be sent home.

What should we do if an employee has tested positive for COVID-19?

You should send home all employees who worked closely with that employee for a 14-day period of time to ensure the virus does not spread.  You should ask the infected employee to identify all individuals with whom he had contact in the previous 14 days. When sending those employees home, keep the name of the infected employee confidential.   If applicable, you should also inform building management so they can take whatever precautions they deem necessary given the information.

In the case of a suspected but unconfirmed case of COVID-19, take the same precautions outlined above. Inform the affected workers that the employee has not tested positive for the virus but has been exhibiting symptoms that lead you to believe a positive diagnosis is possible.

If you have a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19 at the workplace, the CDC also recommends to close off areas used by the infected persons and wait 24 hours (or as long as practical) before beginning cleaning and disinfecting so as to minimize the potential of being exposed to respiratory droplets. Outside doors and windows should be opened to increase air circulation in the area.  All areas used by the infected person(s) should be cleaned and disinfected, especially frequently touched surfaces.

Can we require an employee to notify the company if they have been exposed, have symptoms, and/or have tested positive for the COVID-19 coronavirus?

Yes, you should require any employee who begins experiencing symptoms, has been exposed to someone that is exhibiting symptoms, or has tested positive, to contact the employer by telephone or email and to not report to work. 

What should we do if an employee refuses to come to work because of fear of infection?

Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA), employees are only entitled to refuse to work if they believe they are in imminent danger. Section 13(a) of OSHA defines “imminent danger” to include “any conditions or practices in any place of employment which are such that a danger exists which can reasonably be expected to cause death or serious physical harm immediately or before the imminence of such danger can be eliminated through the enforcement procedures otherwise provided by this Act.” OSHA discusses imminent danger as where there is “threat of death or serious physical harm,” or “a reasonable expectation that toxic substances or other health hazards are present, and exposure to them will shorten life or cause substantial reduction in physical or mental efficiency.”

By Michael Karikomi, April 21, 2020.

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