How to Effectively Manage a COVID-19 Positive Case in the Workplace

and   |   September 17, 2020

As essential businesses continue to operate and other businesses prepare to return to work, employers will need to interpret and implement guidance from public health authorities on how to manage coronavirus risks in the workplace. A critical need many employers will face is how to effectively and compassionately deal with employees who have been confirmed as having COVID-19.

COVID-19 Management Planning: Questions Employers Must Be Able to Answer

Virtual Interview and Contact Tracing

If the COVID-19 positive employee was still working at the employer’s place of business when confirmation is received, he/she should be sent home immediately. The employer should interview the individual by computer or telephone to determine when initial exposure or symptoms may have occurred. The employer should also use the interview to determine which areas of the building were visited or occupied since the time exposure was believed to have occurred or symptoms began. Some employers may find a calendar of work events and a floorplan of the workspace useful for developing space- and time-specific questions and ensuring findings are recorded accurately. For locations identified, the employer should ascertain locations occupied by the confirmed case and whether the employee interacted with other people. For each interaction, the interview should address the duration of the interaction, the proximity of the confirmed case to the other person or people, and whether any physical contact occurred (such as shaking hands). The employer should synthesize information gathered during the interview and determine whether the COVID-19 employee had ‘close contact’ with another individual, as defined by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).1 Primary examples of close contact include:

  • Being within 6 feet of a COVID-19 case for a prolonged time period (15 minutes or more) (for example, any type of meeting or other group activity);
  • Caring for, living with, visiting, or sharing a healthcare waiting area or room with a COVID-19 case;
  • Having direct contact with infectious secretions of a COVID-19 case (for example, being coughed on).

Why Measures to Prevent Community Spread of Coronavirus are Critical

Notification to “Close Contacts”

Using results of the interview, the employer should inform people who are determined to have been in close contact with the confirmed case while at work. Close contacts identified by this process must be sent home for a 14-day self-quarantine. Employers should communicate with employees throughout the self-quarantine period regarding possible onset of symptoms. If the COVID-19-positive employee was working at an offsite location, then the client or collaborator at that location should be contacted right away and be provided with the information and pertinent details so they can institute their contact tracing and response actions.

Are People Infected with the Novel Coronavirus Contagious Before They Have Symptoms?

Cleaning and Disinfection Plan

Areas occupied or visited by the confirmed case should be cleaned and disinfected using reliable methods and materials. Employers should require use of cleaning and disinfectants recommended by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for use against SARS CoV-2. Employees in these areas will very likely need to be relocated temporarily to allow the areas to be treated. The cleaning and disinfection plan should include work spaces known to have been occupied by the affected employee, adjacent areas, and associated common areas identified during the employee interview. High-touch objects should be focal points of the cleaning and disinfection program. These objects include, but are not limited to:

  • Elevator buttons
  • Stairway handrails
  • Doors
  • Cabinet and drawer handles
  • Copy/printer machine touch pads
  • Keyboards
  • Telephones
  • Faucet handles
  • Beverage dispensers


Corporate Communications for Transparency and Trust

Transparency and trust between the employer and employees are essential. Therefore, the employer should prepare and distribute a communication that notifies employees of the confirmed case and steps taken by the organization to manage the risks. Timely distribution of the communication is important for proactively addressing miscommunication and speculation that can arise when no factual, reliable information is available. The communication should protect the privacy of the diagnosed employee, while also assuring staff that all close contacts are being informed and will be sent home for a 14-day self-quarantine. The communication should clearly describe the cleaning and disinfection program, including when the work was (or will) be done and how it complies with federal guidelines. And, importantly, the communication should remind staff to continue practicing infection prevention behaviors such as covering coughs and sneezes, hand washing, staying home when sick, and practicing social distancing.

EH&E has occupational health and medical professionals to help you properly manage a positive case of COVID-19 in your workplace. We also have specialists in risk communication to help communicate critical information to alleviate fears and address the concerns of your staff. Contact us today for assistance.

  1. It’s important to note that according to the CDC, walking by a person or briefly being in a room with a person confirmed with COVID-19 does not constitute a close contact. (4/3/20)