1. Can practices require an employee to notify management if they have been exposed, have symptoms, and/or have tested positive for the COVID-19 coronavirus?
Yes. You should require the employee to notify their supervisor right away if they begin experiencing COVID-19 symptoms. If an employee begins experiencing symptoms while not at work, has been exposed to someone that is exhibiting symptoms, or has tested positive, the employee should contact their supervisor by telephone or email and should not report to work. Employees who are suffering from symptoms should be instructed to remain at home until they are released by a medical provider or, if that is not an option and the employee has not tested positive, until the employee is symptom-free for at least 72 hours without fever (achieved without medication) or other symptoms. Employees who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 should proceed as explained in the response to Question No. 2.
2. The CDC has issued more particularized return to work criteria for healthcare workers with confirmed or suspected COVID-19. What is that guidance?
- A test-based strategy is no longer recommended by the CDC. The symptom-based strategy is recommended to determine when a practice’s employees may return to the workplace:
- Symptom-based strategy. Exclude from work until:
- At least 10 days have passed since symptoms first appeared, and
- At least 24 hours have passed since resolution of fever without the use of fever-reducing medications, and
- Other symptoms have improved.
- Test-based strategy is for those who are severely immunocompromised.
- HCPs with laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 who have not had any symptoms may discontinue isolation and other precautions 10 days after the date of their first positive RT-PCR test for COVID-19.
3. Can a practice take an employee’s temperature at work to determine whether they might be infected?
Yes, preferably before the employee enters the facility. In fact, some state and local authorities have mandated daily temperature checks of employees. Practices should monitor circumstances as they evolve, but under the current pandemic circumstances, employers can (and as noted, may be required to) take employee temperatures daily as a screening tool. Employers should also consider asking employees, at least once a week, whether they are experiencing cough; shortness of breath or difficulty breathing; or at least two of the following symptoms: fever; chills; repeated shaking with chills; muscle pain; headache; sore throat; or new loss of taste or smell. There is no specified format for documenting this screening information, but it must be treated as confidential and should never be placed in an employee’s personnel file. It may be retained in a separate, confidential medical file or in a central COVID-19 screening file. Explain to employees that this information is being obtained privately in order to maintain a safe workplace.
4. Should practices have staff sign or attest to anything in order to protect the staff and office?
Staff should sign documentation confirming that they have been trained and understand the practice’s safety protocols, including those related to COVID-19. To educate its patients and improve compliance, offices should also prominently post summaries of new COVID-19 protocols that they have adopted, such as screening and limiting visitors, handwashing or sanitizing practices that visitors may be required to follow, in addition to its distancing practices. Such postings will also serve as reminders for office staff. In support of documented training that the practice provides to its staff, offices should consider posting reminders about the availability and proper use of personal protective equipment (PPE) and any other new protocols adopted as a result of the COVID-19 crisis. Practices should focus on training staff to comply consistently with all of its OSHA and CDC-compliant policies and to notify the practice administrator promptly of all questions or concerns. Practices should not ask staff to waive any rights related to working in a safe environment.
Note: The information provided in this article was current at the time of publication. However, if you have any questions due to the rapidly changing nature of laws, regulations and guidelines, contact LAMMICO’s Risk Management and Patient Safety Department at 504.841.5211.