March 24, 2020 Article

Return to Work Protocol for Workers Following an Absence Due to COVID-19

This protocol outlines steps to consider when returning an employee or contractor to work after a COVID-19-related absence and applies to situations in which the person: (1) had a positive test result or (2) was out of work on a precautionary basis (with or without symptoms) but was not tested. A negative test result clears the way for return.

1. Ask for a medical note

Ask for a medical note to confirm the person does not have COVID-19 and may return to work. Recognizing that health care professionals may be too busy during or immediately after a pandemic outbreak to provide fitness-for-duty documentation, it may be necessary to accept a form, a stamp, or an e-mail to certify that an individual does not have the pandemic virus, or accept the person's word confirmed by other criteria.

2. Ask about symptoms

In the absence of a medical note and after a sufficient waiting period, it may be necessary to ask returning workers who have reported feeling ill at work, or who call out sick, questions about their symptoms to determine if they have or may have had COVID-19. Currently these symptoms include fever, chills, cough, shortness of breath, or sore throat, and potentially loss of smell or taste. In this dialogue concerning symptoms, try to understand the reasons for the desire to return to work which may lead to an understanding the person is not ready to return to work.

3. Confirm absence of fever

Confirm the employee has remained fever free for 70 hours (3 days) without the use of fever reducing medication. While the EEOC permits taking an employee's temperature under these circumstances, care should be taken before undertaking this step. A normal temperature reading does not indicate a person is free of the virus, and the reading could be the result of fever reducing medication. There is also a risk the test was incorrectly administered or the testing device delivers an inaccurate reading.

4. Improvement of Symptoms

Confirm the worker has experienced improvement in the respiratory symptoms (cough, shortness of breath) and it has been at least 7 days since the onset of symptoms.

5. Confidentiality

Remember that health-related information is confidential and should be protected.

6. Self-Quarantine

Confirm the worker has remained self-quarantined while out of work and has not been exposed to anyone who has developed symptoms or had a positive test result.

7. Social Distancing

Remind workers to continue following social distancing and personal hygiene best practices at work and at home.

8. Stay Informed

Regularly consult or sign up for alerts from public health and other government sites to receive updated information, including CDC, WHO, OSHA, EEOC and state government sites. Guidance may change as more information becomes available from these sources.

We will continue to monitor the situation and provide updates as they become available. If you have questions on how COVID-19 could impact your company, please reach out to Peter Callaghan or a member of our Employment Law Group.