Managing Employee Health in a Pandemic

 In Employees, Human Resources, Managing COVID-19, Safety

Under normal circumstances, employers would not ask employees about their health or conduct medical examinations like taking temperatures in the workplace. A pandemic is a different story, and employers have a little more leeway to manage individual health.

Assessing Symptoms

Before employees come into the workplace, they should self assess for any symptoms related to COVID-19. These include fever (100.4+) or chills, cough, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, fatigue, headache, congestion, runny nose, sore throat, muscle or body aches, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and new loss of taste or smell. If you ask employees any questions about their health or any symptoms, keep those questions specific to COVID-19.

If you take temperatures, be sure to require masks for both parties, provide goggles or face shield for the screener, provide a physical barrier between screener and employees, require 6’ of distance until the screener must get closer, provide new gloves and require hand washing or sanitizing between each employee if the screener has to make physical contact with employees, sanitize thermometer between uses if it contacts employees, and keep the results confidential. Remember, however, that not everyone with COVID-19 has a fever. Note as well that temperature checks, whether at home or in the workplace, should be done 30 minutes after any exercise and 4 hours after any fever reducers are taken.

Managing Risk

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has advised employers that employees who appear to have symptoms of COVID-19 should be separated from other employees and sent home immediately. If the employee feels well enough to work, consider whether they can effectively telecommute. You should not, however, send employees home because you believe they are higher risk—this includes pregnant employees. We would encourage you to make
working from home or unpaid leaves available for employees who want that option, but not to force that on anyone who doesn’t pose a risk to others.

If an employee claims their symptoms are from another cause (e.g., allergies, asthma, common cold), the most risk-averse response would be to send them home with pay until the symptoms resolve or they can provide evidence of the other source of the symptoms. According to the CDC, employees who share a household with someone who is infected—or who have been otherwise exposed— should self-quarantine for 10 days after their last exposure (exposure
will be ongoing until the person they live with has recovered).

  1. Quarantine can end after day 10 without testing if no symptoms have been reported during daily monitoring.
  2. Quarantine can end after day 7 if the employee tests negative—but only if the test is taken at least 5 days into the employee’s quarantine period—and if no symptoms were reported during daily monitoring.

The CDC does not currently recommend special scrutiny or quarantine for those who have been exposed to an asymptomatic person who has been exposed to someone with COVID-19(meaning you don’t need to send everyone home to quarantine just because they worked with someone who has a sick family or household member).

Making Reasonable Accommodations

As part of managing individual health, you may need to make reasonable accommodations for employees. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires reasonable accommodation for employees with disabilities, and state law may as well. If someone is requesting an accommodation because of a disability, you will engage in the interactive process and you may ask for a doctor’s note.

Consider:

  1. Recalling them last
  2. Providing unpaid leave
  3. Allowing them to work from home
  4. Allowing or providing additional PPE
  5. Providing additional hygiene and cleaning breaks

You don’t legally have to accommodate people who have vulnerable family or household members (at least under federal law), but we recommend you do so whenever possible, to reduce the chance that someone’s employment with you is the direct cause of an illness or death in their family.

Looking for more HR help? Our team of Certified HR Professionals can help. Contact us to learn more.

Content provided by Ahola’s HR Support Center.

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