By Nai Kanell
Director of Marketing

Employers across the country are hard at work in efforts to keep their workplaces clean, sanitary, and sterilized to prevent COVID-19 transmission. Unfortunately, coronavirus is tenacious. It survives on airborne particles, on surfaces, and through asymptomatic carriers. Even your best cleaning efforts might not be enough to prevent the virus from entering your workplace. It begs the question: what do you do when your employee tests positive for COVID-19?

It’s a situation every employer hopes to avoid, but one you need to plan for nevertheless. Fast, thorough action and the appropriate response could be lifesaving for other employees. Here’s what to do if your employee tests positive for COVID-19:

Don’t panic!

Consider this step zero. Most employers will immediately fill with dread and feel pangs of panic creep up. Push these emotions down. Panic clouds judgement. In the face of a positive COVID-19 test affecting your workforce, you need a clear head. Count back from 10. Take a deep breath. Whatever it takes to ground yourself.

Express sympathy and act with empathy

The first real step is to make sure your employee is okay. Even if they’re asymptomatic, the person who tested positive is likely filled with anxiety and fear. Take the appropriate time to console them and to let them know you’re there for them in whatever capacity you can be—whether it’s to lighten their workload or help them with FMLA paperwork. Be genuine and understanding. Taking the time to listen can unburden an employee.

Collaborate with HR for traceability

Once you’ve consoled your employee, loop in Human Resources. You’ll need to know who that employee has been in close contact with within the past two weeks. CDC guidelines define close contact as prolonged exposure to an infected individual or repeated exposure within a distance of six feet. Talk through the last two weeks with the infected employee to compile a list of individuals who may need to be notified of exposure.

Contact potentially affected individuals

It’s important to get HR involved early because there are confidentiality laws for notifying individuals exposed to a person who has tested positive for coronavirus. Employers must not reveal the identity of the infected individual when reaching out to those at risk. The safest, legal way to proceed is to notify at-risk employees of potential exposure and refer them to their doctor for testing.

Here again, act with sympathy and compassion. This will be alarming news and employees will likely have questions. Maintain the privacy of the individual who contacted you about a positive test, and offer clear support and advice. It’s best to notify these individuals via phone or email to avoid further in-person contact, just in case.

Answer questions tactfully

Word of COVID-19 exposure will spread quickly in your workplace, which is why it’s important to address the issue upfront and tactfully. Be honest about the situation and provide as much detail as is reasonable while respecting the privacy of employees. Here’s an example of a succinct memo:

There has been a confirmed positive test for COVID-19 at our company. We have already notified individuals who may have had close contact with this person, and taken appropriate action to ensure ongoing workplace safety for all employees. We will continue to monitor the situation closely. We are here to support all of our employees and will do our best to answer any questions you may have.

Follow up this memo to employees with information about how you’re responding to the situation. Outline action items like workplace sanitization, offer information about self-quarantine, and provide resources for coronavirus testing. Again, do not disclose any identifying information about employees. Do not offer medical advice or speculate. Only outline what you’re doing for the workplace and refer employees to public guidance from the CDC and WHO.

Stay connected to positive cases

As a case (or cases) of coronavirus unfolds in your company, stay close to it. Check in with employees who test positive to see how they’re doing and offer support. Check-ins should come not only from an employee’s manager, but from senior leaders within the company. As they recover, make sure they have documentation from a physician deeming when it’s safe to return to the workplace.

Whether they test positive or not, employees will feel stress and anxiety knowing the pandemic is so close to them. Decisive action, good leadership, and empathy go a long way as you strive to quell fears and reassure employees in these uncertain times.

Keep Reading: COVID-19 Company Resources

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