What to do When an Employee Tests Positive for COVID-1920-Mar-20
By McLennan Ross Labour & Employment Team
Current predictions suggest that a large percentage of the Alberta population may contract COVID-19. Employers must be prepared for an employee to test positive. Here are our top 10 tips for employers leading up to and following a positive test result:
- As part of your COVID-19 policy or communications to employees, designate a specific individual as the contact person for COVID-19. Communicate with employees regarding a contact person in the event they contract COVID-19 or become aware they have come into close contact with someone with COVID-19. When an employee contracts COVID-19, Alberta Health Services is likely to ask for a contact number for the employee’s workplace. If your employees know who to identify to the public health authorities, you are more likely to be contacted quickly and will gain valuable time in your response.
- You may be advised of a positive result by your employee or the public health authorities. Confirm you have complete and accurate information from your employee and/or the public health authorities. If speaking directly with your employee, confirm whether Alberta Health Services or their health provider has advised the employee has tested positive or is presumed positive.
- Tell your employee that their health and the health of everyone in the workplace is your top priority. Your employee is sick and likely experiencing stress. Ask if they have the resources they need. Offer any resources that are available through the workplace (such as an employee assistance program, etc.)
- Advise the employee to self-isolate immediately. The employee should not return to the workplace until they have recovered from the COVID-19 virus. Individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19 may be required to self-isolate until they have a follow up test(s) and test negative. However, not everyone will be tested. For example, some confirmed positives may not receive follow-up testing. In some cases, individuals are not tested but may be presumed positive. Other examples will exist. We understand that the current guidance from Alberta Health Services is for an individual to continue to self-isolate until they have tested negative or, if testing does not occur, until 10 days after their symptoms end. Ensure that your employee remains off work for at least 14 days total, at least 10 days after symptoms resolve, or any other period specifically recommended by Alberta Health Services or the employee’s health provider. Be aware that staying home for 14 days may not be enough for an employee who contracts COVID-19 and encourage employees to work with Alberta Health Services and their health care provider to determine when it is safe to come back to work.
- Complete a hazard assessment to determine the risk to your workplace and employees. Employers should try to obtain the following information, if possible, directly from the employee.
- Identify the date on which the employee tested positive and/or the date their symptoms first developed. Doing so allows employers to build a timeline and determine what mitigation efforts need to be taken to ensure the health and safety of the rest of the workforce.
- Identify when the employee was in the workplace in the 14 days prior to the positive test and the areas of the office where they were physically present so that these areas can be sanitized immediately by a qualified professional.
- Identify the co-workers the employee had ‘close contact’ with prior to being quarantined. Close contact in the employment context means working in close quarters (within 2 metres) with someone while they were infectious or being in direct contact with that persons’ bodily fluids due to their coughing and/or sneezing.
- Once close contacts have been identified, the employer should contact those employees and advise that it is believed they worked in close contact with someone who tested positive for the virus. We recommend the employer request that close contacts self-isolate for 14 days from the date of exposure and contact Alberta Health Link at 811 if they develop symptoms. Expect that Alberta Health Services may also be reaching out to close contacts to advise them of a potential exposure to COVID-19.
- Employers will need consider whether a temporary closure of all or part of the workplace may be required in order to protect employees, ensure self-isolation of the necessary employees, and or complete a thorough cleaning of the office. Assess what additional sterilization or cleaning of the workplace is required.
- Where appropriate, advise employees in the same workplace or work area who did not have close contact with the positive employee to self-monitor for symptoms (cough, fever, shortness of breath) and, if they develop symptoms, to self-isolate and call 811.
- When responding to a positive case of COVID-19, employers should take steps to ensure that they do not disclose the identity of an individual who tests positive for the virus. Should this disclosure be necessary to protect other employees or the workplace generally it is possible that in the pandemic disclosure would be permitted pursuant to section 17(i) of the Personal Information Protection Act. Identifying the individual who tested positive should be considered only when necessary and after obtaining legal advice.
- Expect to be contacted by Alberta Health Services. In this rapidly evolving situation, the guidance from the authorities is also evolving. Employers should coordinate their response with Alberta Health Services and follow the directions and recommendations given.
The key is for employers dealing with a positive test result to take all reasonable steps to protect their employees including ensuring that employees who may have been exposed to an individual who has contracted COVID-19 have sufficient information to allow them to protect themselves. Remain calm and emphasize to employees that their health & well-being is their top priority. We are here to help – call your McLennan Ross lawyer or any member of the McLennan Ross Labour and Employment team for guidance.