COVID-19 FAQs for Employers - Updated 9/28/20
As employers work through our “current normal,” below are answers to FAQs, as well as other guidance, that will be helpful to make workplaces safer and reduce the spread of COVID-19.
1) Should all employees come into the office?
2) Can an employee refuse to come to work due to fear of possible exposure to COVID?
- Continue to allow staff to work from home when possible and practical.
- Perform a risk assessment of work spaces and identify areas that might cause people to be within 6 feet from each other.
3) How do we reduce contact and risk in the workplace?
- It is recommended to have a designee available for employees to discuss concerns.
- Some employees may have underlying health conditions that increase risk for severe COVID-19 illness, and/or are concerned about exposing a family member who may be at high risk for complications.
- These situations should be discussed with Human Resources, and if possible, limit employee risk of exposure by ensuring safe social distancing at work or by working remotely from home.
4) Should we require employees to wear a mask at work?
- COVID-19 is a respiratory illness, spread by exhaled air, coughing, sneezing, etc. in the air and through contaminated hands.
- Universal masking policies and frequent handwashing with soap for 20 seconds, and/or use of hand sanitizer (at least 60% alcohol), are key to reducing infection rates.
- Influenza is also a respiratory illness. As we enter flu season, these same measures, along with a flu shot, will also help reduce the incidence of flu in workplaces and communities.
- Continue to encourage the 6 ft. distancing rules and, if possible:
- Move furniture to limit close contact
- Create barriers, such as plastic dividers, to limit direct contact
- Limit the numbers of employees who work in the same space
- Have virtual meetings via phone, WebEx, Zoom, etc. and not in person
- Check ventilation systems and airflow for opportunities to improve safety
- Consider alternatives to break rooms
- Visual reminders, such as tape or stickers, might be placed to demonstrate 6 ft. distancing. Signs can also be used to remind staff and visitors of social distancing recommendations.
5) Should we provide gloves and masks to all employees?
- Universal masking is currently recommended by the CDC, especially when individuals cannot maintain constant 6 ft. distance from others.
- Mask/face coverings are also mandated by many states.
- Many people who carry COVID-19 don’t have symptoms, but can still spread the infection. When everyone wears a mask, it significantly decreases the spread of COVID- 19. Masks also reduce the volume of particles that are exhaled, as well as the volume of potentially infectious droplets inhaled by another person.
- Fabric masks are both accepted and recommended for public use by the CDC during this pandemic.
6) What screening guidelines should I be using? Take temps each day?
- Provide a face mask, if feasible and available. Some employers are requiring employees to have masks as part of their uniform/required work attire.
- If gloves were not previously required, then gloves would not be recommended. Use of gloves can give a false sense of security and increase cross-contamination.
- Good hand hygiene, including washing hands with soap for 20 seconds or use of hand sanitizer (at least 60% alcohol) is always a priority.
7) What special cleaning precautions should we take?
- Taking temperatures has not been shown by evidence to be effective in detecting COVID-19.
- Employers should screen employees, or require self-screening, regarding symptoms including cough, sore throat, fever, chills, shortness of breath, diarrhea, and/or vomiting.
- If employees experience symptoms and/or temperature of >100° F they should be advised to report to their manager (via phone call) and go home. * Note: Any fever, along with symptoms of not feeling well, should be cause for not working until symptoms are resolved.
8) Direct and Indirect Exposures: Can we send employees for testing even if they are not showing symptoms?
- While each work setting is different, there are some consistent recommendations:
- Disinfect frequently-touched objects, such as door knobs, office equipment, handles, light switches, etc. multiple times throughout the day.
- Develop policies for worker protection, and provide training to all cleaning staff.
- Training should include when to use PPE, what PPE is necessary, how to properly don (put on), use, and doff (take off) PPE, and how to properly dispose of PPE.
- Ensure workers are trained on the hazards of the cleaning chemicals used in the workplace in accordance with OSHA’s Hazard Communication standard.
- More information is on the CDC’s “Cleaning & Disinfecting Your Facility” page.
9) My workers are essential. Can they all get tested?
- If an employee has a known direct exposure to a COVID positive individual, it’s recommended to wait at least 2-5 days from the exposure date to test. Waiting longer than 2 days allows time for the virus to become detectable.
- If you test too early, you may not have enough virus in your body to show a positive result, which can lead to a false negative result.
- However, these individuals should still self isolate for 14 days from the date of the direct exposure, regardless of any negative test results during that time.
- Testing is not recommended for asymptomatic individuals who have had indirect exposures.
- Direct exposures occur when a person has close contact with a person who tested positive within 48 hrs. of becoming symptomatic. Close contact is defined as being within 6 feet for >15 minutes.
- Indirect exposures occur when a person may have been around someone who had a potential exposure versus confirmed positive test. Quarantines and testing are not recommended for those with indirect exposures. A person must have been in the same room or space with a known positive individual, not a known potentially exposed individual. The health department contacts individuals with confirmed exposures.
My essential workers worked with or were around someone with COVID. Can they all be tested?
10) What should we do if an employee should be tested?
- Workers who had a direct exposure (as described in #8) should be tested no earlier than 48 hours after the exposure. Testing too early can lead to false negatives. Also, anyone with a true direct exposure should quarantine for 14 days, regardless of a test result.
- According to the CDC, if a critical infrastructure worker must work, he/she must wear a mask, physically distance from all others, avoid crowds and indoor crowded spaces, wash hands frequently, and monitor for symptoms. If symptoms begin, follow instructions in #10.
11) Will there be antibody testing available for the community so we know if employees had the virus already?
- Employees can schedule their own drive-through testing appointments at Deaconess.com/testing. Multiple locations are available in and around Evansville, 7 days a week.
12) If my employee was tested for COVID will I receive the results?
- While it is being actively pursued, this testing is not yet routinely available in our community. If this testing becomes available in the future, that information will be shared.
13) Can I share an employee’s positive test result if the employee gives permission?
- COVID results from healthcare providers are protected under HIPAA laws. Health care providers cannot give results without patient authorization. Your employee or your county health department would have to share these results with you.
- However, county health departments are doing contact tracing for all positive cases.
14) Should we require proof of a quarantine if an employee tested positive?
- If employees agree to have the results shared, then this would be up to your internal process.
- The health department is notified of all positives and does contact tracing for all close contacts.
15) Can we ask employees to stay home if they exhibit symptoms?
- The county health department should be in touch with the positive employee in order to reiterate quarantine requirements.
- People who test positive should self-quarantine until they meet all three of the following:
- 10 days since symptoms first appeared AND
- 24 hours with no fever (without fever-reducing medications) AND
- Any symptoms have improved
- If the person remains asymptomatic, they should quarantine for 10 days from the date of their testing.
- County health officials and/or medical providers can provide a letter that documents the employee’s earliest possible return-to-work date.
16) How long should employees remain home? Scenarios: Tested positive, exposed to someone positive
- Prompt identification and isolation of potentially infectious individuals is a critical step in protecting workers, customers, visitors, and others at a worksite.
- Employees should be encouraged to stay home when ill at any time—during this pandemic, but also for other illnesses, such as during flu season.
- Employers should inform and encourage employees to self-monitor for signs and symptoms of COVID-19 and instruct them to stay home and self-isolate if they develop symptoms. After symptoms develop, the employee can schedule testing at deaconess.com/testing (#10 above).
- Carefully evaluate your company’s sick policies and workers’ comp benefits. Make sure they reflect various scenarios related to the current situation, and communicate scenarios and policies to staff.
17) How can we prevent illness spreading once an employee who has tested positive returns to work?
- Employees who have tested positive:
- Should not return to work until they have been fever free (<100° F) for 24 hours (without fever reducing medication) and at least 10 days have passed since first symptom onset.
- Retesting is NOT recommended for anyone who has had a positive test in the past three months, and should not be required for known positive employees. The test can remain positive for far longer than the person is infectious.
- A symptom-based approach is the best method for determining a safe return-to-work plan. This means that a COVID positive person can return to work when:
- At least 10 days since symptoms first appeared AND
- At least 24 hours fever free (without fever-reducing medication) AND
- Symptoms have improved
- For those patients who have been seriously ill, hospitalized due to COVID illness, and/or who may have immunocompromised status, a longer quarantine may be needed and those patients should consult with their provider.
- For COVID positive individuals who do NOT have symptoms (asymptomatic):
- Return to work should be 10 days from date of testing.
- Additional measures include routine environmental cleaning and continued reminders for appropriate hand hygiene, masking and cough etiquette for all staff.
- If employee has been exposed to someone positive:
- It is important to determine if they had high-risk direct contact with the positive individual, not indirect contact. (see #8 above)
- If employee has been around a known positive and meets the high risk criteria (less than 6 feet for 15 minutes or more), the employee would be quarantined for 14 days from exposure.
- While quarantined, the employee should self-monitor twice daily, and if fever or other COVID-19 symptoms begin, the employee may consider being tested.
- If positive, the above "employees who have tested positive" guidelines would need to be followed, meaning at least 10 days from the date of the positive test, plus symptom improvement as described above.
- A negative test at any point during those 14 days doesn't change the need for a 14 day quarantine from date of exposure.
This situation will continue to evolve so please check the CDC website frequently for changes.
CDC Information for Businesses and Employers
CDC Information on Cleaning and Disinfecting Your Facility
- If health department directives are followed, this should prevent a positive person from returning while still contagious. Ensure that employees follow return to work guidelines.
- Additional measures for routine environmental cleaning and continued reminders for appropriate hand hygiene and cough etiquette for all staff should be used. Always emphasize the importance of frequent handwashing or use of hand sanitizer (at least 60% alcohol).
- Universal masking for all employees will also help decrease spread of illness.
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