In this new COVID-19 reality, employees will be seeking continued guidance and regular updates from their employers. In the event that an employer needs to communicate that an employee has tested positive for COVID-19 or its symptoms, the communications around this will need to be clear and timely. Outlined here are important protocols and considerations in the event you have to share such news.
Employer obligation: In the US it is the obligation of the employer to communicate the instance of an employee’s positive diagnosis of COVID-19 to the group that may have been exposed. Depending on the specific situation, employers should refer to CDC guidance, and consider the following actions:
- Asking the impacted employee to identify all individuals who worked in close proximity (three to six feet) with them in the previous 14 days
- Actioning a deep cleaning of any potentially affected workspaces
- Informing building management so they can take the appropriate precautions
Note that employees will want to be informed about what actions the company has taken to ensure their safety and well being.
In the UK there is not currently an obligation to formally communicate a case of COVID-19 or an employee displaying symptoms in the workplace, nor to close, however they should follow cleaning guidance.
Authorization: Before moving forward with any communications about an impacted individual in the US, an employer should secure authorization to disclose their identity and progress of their care. Disclosures to the media or public at large of an individual’s identity or specific information about the treatment of an identifiable patient may not be done without the patient’s written authorization.
Please refer to the Department of Health and Human Services website for more information on HIPAA Privacy Rules and consult your legal counsel before making any disclosure.
In the UK, employers need to ensure that an individual is NOT identified in any communications under UK data protection law.
Swift and transparent communication: Regardless of location we advise employers to communicate quickly and transparently in the event an employee is diagnosed. If authorization to share the impacted individual’s identity is not given, communications to potentially exposed employees should be made while upholding anonymity of the individual.
Communications should include:
- Specific guidance on what to do if an employee believes they have been exposed
- Resources from qualified health officials, such as CDC and WHO, and in the UK the NHS and 111 and so employees are receiving accurate and the most up-to-date guidance
- A clear point of contact for the employee to share questions or concerns.
If you would like guidance or template materials for communicating an instance of COVID-19 in an employee, please feel free to contact Vested directly.
Wishing you, your families and colleagues wellness during this challenging time.