By Alan Rauss
A significant number of companies have remained open during this period of shut down and stay at home orders, because they are “Essential Businesses” that are engaged in “Essential Operations,” as those or similar terms have been defined in the relevant orders. The number of persons who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 or exposed to a person so diagnosed has grown steadily and, as a result, more and more of those Essential Businesses are faced with the very real and important question: “What should I do when an employee reports they are diagnosed or have been in contact with a person with COVID-19?”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recently provided an Interim Guidance that begins to respond to that question. In a document headed “Implementing Safety Practices for Critical Infrastructure Workers Who May Have Had Exposure to a Person with Suspected or Confirmed COVID-19” the (“Guidance”), the CDC stated that workers may continue to work following potential exposure to an individual with confirmed or suspected COVID-19, so long as (i) the worker remains asymptomatic, and (ii) additional precautions are implemented to protect the worker and the community. Potential exposure means being a household contact or having close contact within six feet of the confirmed or suspected individual.
The Guidance explains that, so long as the worker remains asymptomatic, the employer should adhere to the following practices prior to or during the worker’s work shift: (i) measure the worker’s temperature and assess symptoms prior the worker’s starting time, and preferably before the worker enters the facility; (ii) as long as the worker has no temperature or symptoms, require the worker to self-monitor under the supervision of the employer’s occupational health program; (iii) the worker should wear a face mask (issued by the employer or prepared by the worker and approved by the employer in the event of shortages) at all times while in the workplace for 14 days after exposure, (iv) the worker should practice social distancing and a six foot separation from others, as work duties permit; and (v) the employer should clean and disinfect all areas such as offices, bathrooms, common areas and shared electronic equipment routinely.
What If the Worker Becomes Sick During the Workday?
The Guidance also explains what to do if the worker becomes sick during the day. Answer: the sick worker should be sent home immediately. Immediately thereafter, surfaces in the workplace should be cleaned and disinfected and the employer should begin to compile information on everyone who had contact with the sick worker. Employers should look at those who had contact with the sick worker during (i) the time the worker exhibited symptoms, and (ii) the two days immediately prior thereto. The employer should notify individuals who fall into these two categories immediately. Others at the facility who had close contact (i.e. within six feet of the sick worker) should also be considered exposed to COVID-19 and notified as well.
The CDC has also prepared a poster that that lists a few “Dos” and “Don’ts” for employees and employers when an essential critical worker has been exposed to COVID-19.
We recommend that every employer that is an Essential Business be aware of these rules in advance of the time that they need to be implemented so that, when or if necessary, the employer can implement the rules quickly and effectively. They should be proactive in taking all steps to keep their workspaces safe from COVID-19. Essential Businesses should also consider adopting a policy outlining the steps that they are currently taking and the measures that they will take under various scenarios related to COVID-19 issues. We would be happy to assist you in the development and implementation of such a policy, at your request. Please contact Alan Rauss (firstname.lastname@example.org; 216.310.4936), Rob Gilmore (email@example.com; 216.389.2840), Kirsten Bordis Mooney (firstname.lastname@example.org; 228.249.2294), or any of our other Employment lawyers.