COVID-19 and Workplace Implications

Questions and Answers about Covid-19

Employers across the country are facing an unprecedented challenge in responding to the COVID-19 crisis. There are many workplace implications with addressing the current pandemic, and I am proud to do what I do best – inform employers and occupational safety and health professionals. Businesses and employers can prevent and slow the spread of COVID-19. It is important to have a plan to prepare themselves and their workers. Here are some common questions about COVID-19:

Q. If your place of business has discovered that an employee is positive for COVID-19, what steps should be taken before returning to operation? What type and extent of cleaning/disinfecting is required?

Employees who have symptoms (i.e., fever, cough or shortness of breath) should notify their supervisor and stay home. Employees who appear to have symptoms upon arrival at work or who become sick during the day should immediately be separated from other employees, customers and visitors and sent home.

If an employee is confirmed to have COVID-19 infection, employers should inform fellow employees of their possible exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace but maintain confidentiality as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act. Fellow employees should then self-monitor for symptoms. If a sick employee is suspected or confirmed to have COVID-19, follow the CDC cleaning and disinfection recommendations.

Q. What is an appropriate amount of time a person who has COVID-19 should stay out of work?

Employers should not require a positive COVID-19 test result or a healthcare provider’s note for employees who are sick to validate their illness, qualify for sick leave or to return to work. Healthcare provider offices and medical facilities may be extremely busy and not able to provide such documentation in a timely manner.

A doctor will determine exact time as follow-up virus testing may be done.

Q. Most guidance for workplaces seem to focus on indoor environments. What guidance do you have for outdoor workplaces, like construction and others?

It is important for employers and workers to follow CDC guidance and practice physical distancing by avoiding large gatherings and maintaining distance (approximately 6 feet or 2 meters) from others when possible. Outdoor workers may benefit from their work being located in a well-ventilated workplace (outside), versus indoor work environments where air is recirculated to some extent and physical distancing may be more difficult.

Q. Are wet utility workers (specifically those that work in sewers) at high risk with COVID-19? There are reports that fecal matter and blood are exposure paths/agents and sewer manholes are the travel path for that type of human waste.

Yes, there are reports from hospital studies that COVID-19 can be found around toilet bowls. These workers should take proper protective precautions that would be necessary when working around materials that may be contaminated by human waste. However, water itself has not been identified as a source.

Q. What is the body temperature reading that should raise concerns? If someone has a “low grade” fever should they stay home from work? What constitutes “low grade?”

Reported illnesses have ranged from mild symptoms to severe illness, including fever, cough, and shortness of breath. Generally, 100 degrees F or less is low-grade.

Q. Our business has pregnant employees. Are there specific precautions we should take for these employees?

Per the CDC Pregnancy and Breastfeeding guidance, pregnant women should do the same things as the general public to avoid infection. We do not currently know if pregnant women have a greater chance of getting sick from COVID-19 than the general public, nor whether they are more likely to have serious illness as a result.

Q. What guidance do you have for our employees who interact with members of the general public? For example, drivers, customer service reps.