Authorities now recommend against requiring a negative COVID-19 test for employees to return to work.
The Waco-McLennan County Public Health District issued a new FAQ for employers as of 8/5/2020 here.
There are many mitigation actions that can be taken to keep your employees and customers safe. A full list of recommendations can be found HERE. Primary strategies include:
- Actively encourage sick employees to stay home and implement flexible sick leave and supportive policies
- Consider conducting daily in-person or virtual health checks (e.g., symptom and temperature screening)
- Conduct the screening safely and respectfully and maintain confidentiality
- Maintain social distancing guidelines
- Provide recommended personal protective equipment to the screener
- Do not make determinations of risk based on race or country of origin
- Identify where and how workers might be exposed at work
- Encourage employees to wear cloth face coverings, unless a higher level of protection is required for their job duties
- Separate employees who show symptoms at work and make a plan to ensure the employee can be safely transported home or to a healthcare provider, if needed.
- Guidance on how to respond to COVID-19 in the workplace, including necessary cleaning procedures, can be found HERE.
Protect employees at higher risk for severe illness through supportive policies and practices. Older adults and people of any age who have serious underlying medical conditions are at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19.
- Offer flexible options such as telework to employees. This will eliminate the need for employees living in higher transmission areas to travel to workplaces in lower transmission areas and vice versa.
- Consider offering vulnerable workers duties that minimize their contact with customers and other employees (e.g., restocking shelves rather than working as a cashier), if the worker agrees to this.
Individuals that are a CLOSE CONTACT (definition) of a confirmed COVID-19 case are instructed to stay home for 14 days after they last came in contact with the sick person. Close contact means being less than 6 ft away from someone for more than 15 minutes, regardless of whether either person was wearing a mask or face covering.
Because the employee could become sick any time during the 14 days following their last contact with the sick person, it is very important to allow for this quarantine time period to pass before allowing the employee back to work. This is how we stop the spread. If the employee develops COVID-19 symptoms, they should seek care from their healthcare provider. If the employee does not become symptomatic, they should be allowed to return to work after the 14 day quarantine period has ended. NEITHER A NEGATIVE TEST RESULT NOR A DOCTOR’S NOTE IS REQUIRED TO RETURN TO WORK.
If the employee had contact with the sick person but is not considered a CLOSE CONTACT, the employee should self-monitor for symptoms, but it is not necessary for them to stay home.
Critical infrastructure sectors may consider additional criteria for allowing employees to return to work after an exposure.
No. Although a negative viral test result can tell you that your employee is not infected at this moment, it does not ensure that an employee will not become infected in the near future. Therefore, negative test results offer only limited benefit in keeping your business, staff, and customers safe. Employees who were exposed to someone with COVID-19, and meet the definition of a CLOSE CONTACT, should quarantine for 14 days in accordance with CDC guidelines.
Employers should not require a 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. Under the American’s with Disabilities Act, employers are permitted to require a doctor’s note from your employees to verify that they are healthy and able to return to work. However, as a practical matter, be aware that healthcare provider offices and medical facilities may be extremely busy and not
able to provide such documentation in a timely manner. Most people with COVID-19 have mild illness and can recover at home without medical care and can follow CDC recommendations to determine when to discontinue home isolation and return to work. (CDC)
In the case of exposure to COVID-19, an employer can refer to the definition of a close contact to determine if an employee meets that definition and needs to be excluded from work during their quarantine period. See the question above regarding “My employee was exposed to someone that tested positive for COVID-19.”
In addition, DSHS is not recommending COVID-19 testing be required before returning to work. This is in alignment with guidance from the Texas Workforce Commission, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and Department of State Health Services (see DSHS Letter to employers).
In short, no. Antibody testing is being offered by various providers. However, the CDC does not currently recommend using antibody testing as the sole basis for diagnosis of acute infection, and antibody tests are not authorized by FDA for such diagnostic purposes. In addition, we do not know yet if having antibodies to the virus can protect someone from getting infected with the virus again, or how long that protection might last. An antibody test should not be used to guide decisions on whether to return an employee to work or what type of personal protective equipment is needed.
If one of your staff members tests positive, employers should:
- Ask that staff member to stay home and isolate until they meet the CDC symptom-based strategy criteria for discontinuation of isolation.
- If an employee is confirmed to have COVID-19, 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 (ADA).
- Employers will need to identify other employees that are close contacts of that positive case. Individuals that are identified as close contacts should stay home for 14 days from their last contact with the infected person and self-monitor for symptom development. Should any close contact develop symptoms associated with COVID-19, they should see their doctor for
care and find out if testing is right for them. Also, see question above regarding exposure and close contact.
- Anyone else that had contact with the sick employee but is not considered a close contact should self-monitor for symptoms, but it is not necessary for them to stay home.
- Employers should also follow CDC guidelines for cleaning and disinfecting the workplace after persons with suspected/confirmed to have COVID-19 have been in the facility.
In most cases, you do not need to shut down your facility. But do close off any areas used for prolonged periods of time by the sick person. For those areas, wait 24 hours before cleaning and disinfecting to minimize potential for other employees being exposed to respiratory droplets. If waiting 24 hours is not feasible, wait as long as possible. Follow the CDC cleaning and disinfection recommendations.
If your employee was diagnosed with COVID-19, they should follow the CDC Criteria for Release from Isolation.
If your employee was a close contact of someone that was diagnosed with COVID-19, they should follow the CDC Guidelines for Quarantine. Also, see the questions above regarding requiring a doctor’s note and a COVID-19 test before allowing employees to come back to work.
Asking employees to stay home when they are sick is one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19 both within your business as well as in the community. There are many reports of “super spreader” events in a variety of community settings. (Video Illustration)
Allowing a sick employee to come to work presents many risks to your staff, your customers, and potentially your business itself. One sick employee can potentially infect several others, creating a much higher absenteeism rate. That sick employee could also potentially infect customers, which, through an epidemiological investigation, could be linked to your sick employee. If that information became public, your business could suffer significantly in terms of public perception. (Note: The Health District does not release the names of businesses involved in outbreaks unless there is reason to believe that members of the public were exposed, i.e. meeting the close contact definition, and there is no other way to notify those individuals except through a public information release.) The potential cost to your business could be much higher for allowing a sick employee to come to work than for providing options for your employees to stay home when sick.
Potential options to encourage employees to stay home include
- Allowing PTO banks for employees to share PTO with others who need it
- Reassuring employees that they will not lose their position for staying home
- Providing information on resources that are available to employees that are struggling financially.
- Additionally, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA or Act) requires certain employers to provide their employees with paid sick leave and expanded family and medical leave for specified reasons related to COVID-19. These provisions will apply from April 1, 2020 through December 31, 2020. More Info
OSHS and CDC Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19: https://www.osha.gov/Publications/OSHA3990.pdf
CDC General Business FAQs: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/general-business-faq.html
CDC Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers Responding to COVID-19: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/guidance-business-response.html
Prepare your Small Business and Employees for the Effects of COVID-19: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/guidance-small-business.html
Worker Safety & Support for Specific Occupations: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/worker-safety-support/index.html
Cleaning and Disinfecting Guidance: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/clean-disinfect/index.html