SOMEONE AT WORK HAS COVID. WORKERS WANT TO KNOW WHO
QUESTION: I work in a big box store. Last week, some of us received a note stating a person on our shift had tested positive for Covid-19. The person was not identified. We want to know who it is, so we will now how much we interacted with him or her, and whether he or she interacted with anyone on other shifts, or after work. Our supervisor says he cannot give us that information. This does not make any sense to me. How can we protect ourselves if we don’t know the extent of our exposure?
ANSWER: The supervisor is right in declining to reveal the name of the person who tested positive. As counter-intuitive as it might seem, the names of those diagnosed with contagious diseases must be kept confidential. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, which applies to private employers with 15 or more employees, employers must maintain all information about employee illness as a confidential medical record.
This doesn’t mean, however, that an employer has to sit on the information that an employee has COVID-19. According to guidance from the Center for Disease Control, an employee who is diagnosed with COVID-19 should be sent home from work and told to remain in home quarantine (if they do not need to go to the hospital). On top of that, employees who have been exposed, even if they have no symptoms, should remain at home or in isolation for two weeks. The CDC consider employees to have been exposed to the virus if they were in close contact (6 feet or less) with a person who is diagnosed as positive for a prolonged period of time.
The CDC recommends that those who test positive for COVID-19 but do not develop any symptoms of the disease may come out of quarantine 10 days after their first positive test. (Note, the CDC insists on use of the RT-PCR test as being the most accurate). Ironically, people who have simply been exposed to the disease must wait the full 14 days in quarantine before returning to work.
Even workers who do not believe they have been exposed should self-monitor for symptoms of COVID and – if they are not already doing so – wear a mask in public. And, of course, they should also wash their hands frequently and try to maintain a social distance of 6 feet. To keep everyone safe, any worker who develops symptoms should immediately notify a supervisor and stay home.
But employers should do more than inform their employees of possible exposure; they should close off any areas used for prolonged periods of time by the infected person, and should disinfect that area and all areas used by the worker with COVID. The CDC recommends that employees wait 24 hours before cleaning any possibly contaminated area after closing it to “minimize potential for other employees being exposed to respiratory droplets.”
Workers who are sent home from work after testing positive may be eligible for sick pay. Under Division E of the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act, passed in March, workers are entitled to up to 80 hours of paid sick leave at their regular rate of pay if they are quarantined pursuant to federal state or local government order) and/or “experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and seeking a medical diagnosis” That paid sick time is in addition to any leave accrued under Michigan’s Paid Medical Leave Act.
Any Michigan worker who has tested positive or shows COVID-19 symptoms is subject to a government quarantine order. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s Executive Order (Number 166) states such workers should stay home until “24 hours have passed since the resolution of fever without the use of fever-reducing medications … 10 days have passed since their symptoms first appeared or since they were swabbed for the test that yielded a positive result and … other symptoms have improved.”
While the Governor’s order doesn’t come with any extra financial benefits (workers who have accrued sick time may use it), it does prohibit employers from discharging, disciplining, or otherwise retaliating against an employee “for staying home when he or she is at particular risk of infecting others with COVID-19.”
As of September 7, almost 120,000 Michiganders had been diagnosed with COVID. While about three quarters of those diagnosed have since recovered, some 6,800 people died. Statistics on the number of people diagnosed with the virus who experience severe symptoms are not available.
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By: Daniel A. Gwinn, Esq
.Attorney and Counselor at Law
GWINN LEGAL PLLC
901 Wilshire Drive, Suite 550
Troy, MI 48084
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