The coronavirus pandemic has changed the way we work and manage our employees for the past year. When the information changes daily it starts to make you feel like your head is spinning and you will never come out ahead of this crisis. For those of us in the HR world we all have acted like little ducks treading viciously under water to stay afloat all the while maintaining a calm presence, so we do not upset our employees. Let us take a look at some of the most frequently asked questions and what the answer is to that question today!

How long should employees with COVID-19 symptoms or a positive test stay at home before returning to work?

Currently anyone with COVID-19 who has symptoms and were directed to care for themselves at home may return to work at least 10 days since symptoms started and at least 24 hours have passed since resolution of fever without the use of medications, and other symptoms have improved. For those that never develop symptoms but did test positive for COVID-19 may return to work 10 days after the first positive test result. The CDC does update their guidance as recommendations change so it is a great idea to regularly check their website.

What should we tell our employees if a co-worker has tested positive for COVID-19?

You should inform employees that a possible exposure has occurred in the workplace without
disclosing any identifying information about the individual who tested positive. Providing employees with information from health officials and assuring employees that their health and safety is paramount can help to prepare and educate employees without causing panic.

What should we do if an employee discloses that they have been in close contact with a person who tested positive for COVID-19?

According to CDC guidance, essential employees who have had close contact with a person diagnosed with COVID-19 may continue to work if they are asymptomatic and protective measures are taken. This includes screening the employee each workday for fever and other symptoms, having the employee wear a mask and regularly disinfecting work areas. Non-essential employees should isolate for
10 days and receive a negative test result before returning to work.

Can we require employees to receive the COVID-19 vaccine?

In general, it is recommended for you to offer vaccinations to employees on a voluntary basis
rather than implementing a mandatory vaccination policy. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has released specific guidance on the COVID-19 vaccine. The guidance indicates that as an employer you must consider reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities and those employees whose religious beliefs conflict with receiving a vaccine.

Can we ask if employees have received the COVID-19 vaccine?

Yes, you can ask employees if they have been vaccinated against COVID-19; however, be careful to avoid soliciting information related to an employee’s medical condition. A simple yes or no should be sufficient and you should instruct employees not to provide additional information about the reason they may not have received the vaccine.

Dealing with a pandemic is such a grey area for business owners, keeping a close eye on updates from the CDC, EEOC, OSHA, and State and Local health departments will help you to navigate these waters. Continue to work closely with your Human Resources department for guidance specific to your company, and to make sure the proper policies and procedures are implemented.

Michelle Burnette is the Human Resources Director at Carolina HR. 

Stephen H. Murphy, SPHR, is the president and founder of Carolina HR. He has been active in Human Resource management and consulting for over thirty years and brings his experience in a wide variety of HR situations to his clients.


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