By now, many employers have had at least one case of COVID-19 in their workplace. Especially considering the sweep of tort lawsuits across the country, employers’ responses to the presence of an infection in the workplace is of crucial importance to managing both legal and reputational risk exposure.
As your legal risk management partner, HBL offers the following three strategies for responding to cases of COVID-19 in the workplace…
Tip #1: Promptly identify and safely isolate employees who are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms.
When employees suspect they may have COVID-19 or are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, your most important job (from a risk management standpoint) is to safely isolate them to prevent further transmission. Employers are best advised to have policies and procedures in place for employees to report COVID-19 symptoms and take all necessary steps (including appropriate masking or PPE) to safely move to a restricted area until they are able to be removed from the workplace.
Tip #2: Be prepared to investigate whether an infection is work related.
For both Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) compliance and risk management in multiple other areas, employers should be prepared to perform an appropriate level of contact tracing to determine if (more likely than not) COVID-19 was contracted inside or outside of the workplace. Employers must approach all contact tracing with careful planning. Discovering information about employees’ personal circumstances could open the door to risk in other areas.
Tip #3: Develop written communication to inform other employees who may have had direct contact with the infected employee.
To manage risk in multiple key areas, employers should notify, in writing, other employees who may have been in close contact (i.e., 6 feet for at least 10 minutes) with the infected employees. According to EEOC guidance, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)’s confidentiality requirements do not interfere with the employer notifying those who may have had close contact with the employee. However, according to the EEOC, the employer may not reveal the name of the employee in its communication.
BONUS TIP: If there was ever a time to contact your employment attorney, this is it.
Although there are general principles that apply to most cases of COVID-19 in the workplace, knowledge of the specific circumstances is key to managing both legal and reputational risk. If, for example, an infected employee may have been at the worksite of your client or customer, you are best advised to make sure you understand the precise legal requirements and risk exposure applicable to your state and industry before deciding whether you need to speak with the client or customer. Also, OSHA standards may differ depending upon your industry.
If you have any questions about the above, please contact Hall Benefits Law. We would love to hear from you, and the HBL team looks forward to serving as your legal risk management partner!
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