My Employee Tested Positive for CORONAVIRUS – Now What?


Here is a list of immediate steps you can take to manage when an employee, customer, or worksite visitor tests positive for coronavirus or when a staff member is ordered to self-isolate due to possible exposure:

Inform your management team immediately. If you are a small business, management may just be the business owner. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC] has a webpage that offers the latest information concerning small businesses dealing with the virus.  

Do a thorough cleaning and disinfection of the worksite where the infected employee worked. Follow the Center for Disease Control’s [CDC] cleaning and disinfection recommendations or use the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’ [OSHA] guidance on control and prevention of the spread of the Coronavirus in the workplace.

Notify your entire staff of this health situation: Employers should inform all employees that possible exposure has occurred in the workplace, including those employees who worked in the exact location or area where the COVID-positive employee worked. Notification should be done without delay and without revealing any confidential medical information such as the name of the employee or any identifying information about the individual who tested positive. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) privacy rules restrict employers from sharing personal health information of an employee.    

Sample notice to employees about the positive test:

We learned [today's date] that one of our employees has tested positive for COVID-19. We cannot identify the employee who tested positive because of privacy laws. If you develop flu or other respiratory symptoms (coughing, fever, or shortness of breath): Contact your medical provider at once. DO NOT REPORT TO WORK. Notify [insert company contact] as soon as possible by contacting [name of specific staff member] at (000) 000-0000.

Testing employees upon re-entry:  You can require all employees to take a certain type of COVID-19 test upon re-entry to the workplace. Many health care providers offer what may be called the Rapid Test, which will often cost $100 per person.  Employers cannot require the more evasive, accurate test called the PCR, so the Rapid Test may be your only option. This testing may help employees return to work with more confidence.  

Check employee eligibility for sick leave: Contact Cardinal Services to determine if the employee is eligible for any kind of paid time off under your company policy, or under local, state, or federal guidelines. The employee may be eligible for emergency paid sick leave under the new Federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA).   

Review & share quarantine/self-isolation guidelines with employees: Most people with COVID-19 have a mild illness and can recover at home without medical care. The CDC offers healthcare guidelines for what to do when an employee is sick at home. The CDC also provides guidance on how to determine when to discontinue home isolation and return to work—”Discontinuation of Isolation for Persons with COVID-19 Not in Healthcare Settings.”  

Return to work guidelines: The CDC has detailed information on the criteria on returning to work, which contains specific requirements depending upon whether the employee tested positive for COVID-19, exhibited symptoms, or is returning from self-isolation due to contact. OSHA also has a detailed booklet on the subject.

“Cleared for work” medical release: Employers should instruct the sick or quarantined employee to remain at home until released by a physician or public health official to return to work. Legally, clearance from a health care provider to return to work can be required by an employer. Employers need to be aware that healthcare providers and medical facilities may be short-staffed during this pandemic and may not be able to provide this documentation in a timely manner. If a doctor’s note releasing the employee is unavailable, follow the CDC guidelines on when an employee may return to work. NOTE: In Oregon and California, employers may be required to pay any associated costs for an employee to obtain a doctor’s note.

Don’t panic – call Cardinal: Our HR Specialists are ready to help you with the complex issues and concerns you may have in dealing with COVID-19 and your business. We have dedicated COVID-19 webpages with essential pandemic resources and links for both Employers and Employees. You can also call us with your questions.