As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, employers are understandably concerned about the risk of infection in the workplace. In the midst of an evolving medical crisis, it can be difficult to balance that concern with the requirements of the law.
Employers may legally ask their employees if they are experiencing symptoms of the pandemic virus, including fever, chills, cough, shortness of breath, or sore throat. Employers may require their employee to submit to temperature checks as well, but it is worth remembering that some people with COVID-19 do not have a fever. In any case, all information about employee illness or symptoms must be kept confidential. Medical information related to COVID-19 should be kept in existing medical files, not personnel files. Testing and medical inquiries should be conducted on a non-discriminatory basis. All similarly-situated employees should be treated equally.
At work, employer should follow guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”) and from local authorities. Require your employees to observe social distancing, and to practice frequent handwashing. The CDC recommends the use of cloth face masks in public settings, particularly in areas of significant community-based transmission.
Employees who become ill with symptoms of COVID-19 should be required to leave the workplace immediately. In doing so, take care to respect the privacy and dignity of the employee. Under recent federal law, employees who are absent from work due to COVID-19 are entitled to two weeks of paid sick leave. Your company’s policies may provide additional paid leave as well. You should inform your other employees of their possible exposure to COVID-19, while taking care to maintain confidentiality. It may be necessary to require exposed co-workers to stay home from work and self-quarantine for up to 14 days. Follow guidelines from the CDC to clean and disinfect the workplace.
When a sick employee is ready to return to work, it is permissible to require some medical certification of their health before allowing them to return.