Handling Employee Sickness

HR Considerations for Handling Employee Sickness Post-COVID-19: A How-To Guide

“My employee or someone they know is sick, what do I do?”

For example:

  • My employee has a confirmed case of COVID and worked or did not work during the 14-days prior-to
  • My employee has been exposed to a person with a confirmed case of COVID and worked or did not work during the 14 days prior-to
  • My employee’s spouse, child, parent, grandparent, family member, or friend is sick or not feeling well and might have COVID
  • My employee’s spouse, child, parent, grandparent, family member, or friend has been exposed to a person with a confirmed or possible case of COVID
  • My employee “thinks” s/he has been exposed to COVID and/or is not feeling well and wants to be tested for COVID.
  • One of our patients/customers may have had COVID and was around my employees

Follow these steps.

1. Immediately contact or visit the website for your local or state health department for guidance (regulatory mandates and requirements, quarantining, closing the business, reporting/notifications, tracking/tracing, and testing, vary greatly and are changing rapidly). Here is the link to each state’s health department.

Contacting your local health department and possibly OSHA is typically mandatory in the situation where an employee has a positive COVID test. If the situation is still unknown and the employee is seeking a diagnosis, you may want to call your local health department and see what they recommend given the circumstances.

2. Have the employee follow the advice/recommendations of his/her healthcare provider (testing, self-quarantine, rest-up-and-feel-better, no-cause-for-alarm).

3. Do not have the employee report to or continue to work until you are clear of the correct course to take from the health department and the attending healthcare provider.

4. Note: as the employer, it is always within your right to tell an employee to not show up for work. You can tell them to take any number of days off while you wait and see or figure things out. Obviously, there are business impacts to scheduling employees off, so you’ll want to weigh those against the risks, based on the facts of the situation. There is not a one-size-fits-all solution for all scenarios. 

HR Considerations:

1. If the sickness is not COVID-19 related, for example stomach-bug-related or other cold/flu, then simply follow your normal office protocols in a similar manner as before COVID. The employee may use their available sick leave or PTO if applicable.

2. Familiarize yourself with the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) benefits. See our How To Guide. The employee may be eligible for FFCRA Sick Leave benefits, unless they have already exhausted the benefit.

Note: due to the delay in test results and healthcare provider diagnosis, an employee may be eligible for FFCRA benefits for a few days, and then their eligibility may change. 

For example: if the COVID test comes back negative, the employee is still sick, and their treating physician just tells them to rest up and feel better, then FFCRA does not apply. Normal sick leave or PTO may be used if available.

If the healthcare provider says “continue to self-quarantine” then FFCRA Sick Leave still applies and the employee should remain at home while their condition is monitored.

3. If you require an employee to get tested, this qualifies as a “Medical Examination” and it needs to be paid-for by you, the employer. You can arrange a payment directly to the testing facility, or the employee can pay for the test and receive a reimbursement. You are also required to pay the employee’s wages for the time involved being tested. They will submit their hours to you in some form or fashion, such as a paper timesheet.

4. If the employee is not experiencing symptoms, and a treating physician is not involved, and you are simply requiring the employee to avoid the office for a period of time, then FFCRA Sick Leave does not apply.

5. If you, as the employer, initiate a self-quarantine or stay-at-home requirement for an employee, the employee may be eligible for unemployment benefits during that time.

6. Your state may have an emergency supplemental COVID-related sick leave benefit. This can function like FFCRA Sick Leave and provide job-protected leave as well as paid benefits. 

7. The CDC has recommendations for returning to work after the employee’s symptoms have subsided. You’ll find information here

Other Frequently Asked Questions:

  • My employee traveled somewhere else, do I have them stay away from the office for 14 days? Does it matter if they drove or flew on a plane? Does it matter how long they were gone? What if they take a cruise?
    • The CDC has guidance about travel within the US and other forms of travel. It is worth reviewing their recommendations. Click here to view.
    • Your state, county, or city may also have specific requirements for employees who travel out of the area. You can check with your local health department for more information.
    • Keep in mind that an employee might travel and be extremely careful and safe. Meanwhile, another employee might remain in town, and go to a large gathering of other people in an unsafe manner. Simply traveling to another city or state does not automatically increase the risk of infection. 
    • If you enact a strict policy of 14 days of non-work-time every time an employee leaves the area, you may end up with employees who simply lie to you or refuse to tell you about their plans. 
    • If you are going to go down this path, be sure to apply the policy consistently. Normal discrimination rules are still in effect. If you are only requiring isolation of employees who are in protected classes, you may be at risk of a discrimination claim. 
  • I’m considering testing my employees on a regular basis. Is this a good idea?
    • Due to the challenges with the current testing methods, this approach may not have the desired safety effect you are hoping for. 
    • For example: you could test an employee today, they could become infected tomorrow, and be an asymptomatic spreader of the virus before their next test.
    • As outlined above, if you are requiring employees to be tested, you are required to pay for the cost of their tests as well as their time while being tested. 
    • Consider the physical impacts of regular testing: the nose swab method can be very unpleasant for most people. This may lead to morale issues or even turnover. Further, if the person administering the test is not properly trained and causes harm or injury to the employee, this could result in a workers’ compensation claim or other liability problems. 
    • Regular testing can be beneficial from a marketing perspective with your patients/customers, and demonstrate your commitment to ensuring their safety. However, it can also create a false sense of confidence if the frequency is not actually effective at catching the virus before it can be spread to other employees, patients, or customers.