With the number of COVID cases in the US nearing the 15 million mark, it may be just a matter of time before someone on your staff tests positive. Small businesses have different policies about what to do when this happens. Some notify all staff members, others close for several days, or at least share information publicly about the situation in case one of their customers may have been exposed. Others choose to limit notification to the employees who worked directly with the person who has the virus, and to keep the positive diagnosis confidential for fear of the negative impact the news will have on their struggling business.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) makes it clear that a temporary business closure is optional, but they do emphasize the importance of closing off any area used for a prolonged time by the employee with a positive diagnosis. They also pass along the helpful suggestion that you wait 24 hours before cleaning and disinfecting this area, in case respiratory droplets linger. See this page on the CDC website for cleaning instructions.

It is imperative that you notify all the employees who worked near a confirmed case of COVID-19, however you need to maintain the confidentiality required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  Cooperate with your local health department officials to provide information that will help in their contact tracing efforts. 

All who have had close contact with a known COVID-19 case need to quarantine, staying away from others in order to prevent the spread of the virus – and even if no one on your staff tests positive, there is a good chance that someone may be exposed outside of work.  The latest guidelines suggest that if the exposed person doesn’t develop any symptoms, they can end quarantine after the 10th day without testing and the 7th day with a negative test result.

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act requires certain employers to provide employees with paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave for specified reasons related to COVID-19.  Check the U.S. Department of Labor’s site for the latest information about these provisions, which at the moment are set to expire at the end of 2020.

Your business needs to set its own guidelines for how long the employee who tested positive should stay away from work.  Local public health authorities are charged with establishing quarantine regulations for their jurisdictions, according to the CDC. Quarantine is defined as staying home – anyone who is infected needs to go beyond this and stay in isolation from others. Employees should not return to work until they have met the CDC criteria to discontinue home isolation and have consulted with a healthcare provider.

The employee who has tested positive is facing a potentially life-threatening illness, so concern for that person’s well-being should not be overlooked in the rush to protect other staff members and your business.  Notes of concern, food deliveries, and other offers of help will be welcome during this frightening time in your employee’s life.

Happy Retailing,
Carol “Orange” Schroeder