COVID-19 and your workplace: New FAQs

Image shows the entrance to a store with a station for hand-sanitizer and safety information

Furniture retailers should strive to follow public health guidelines as they try to make their businesses safe for employees and customers. Those guidelines are extensive. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently updated its Frequently Asked Questions about COVID-19 in workplaces. Here is a summary.

What should I do if an employee comes to work with COVID-19 symptoms?

Employees who have symptoms when they arrive at work or become sick during the day should immediately be separated from other employees, customers and visitors and sent home. Employees who develop symptoms outside of work should notify their supervisor and stay home. Employees should not return to work until they have met the criteria to discontinue home isolation and have consulted with a healthcare provider.

What should I do if an employee is suspected or confirmed to have COVID-19?

In most cases, you do not need to shut down your business. But do close off any areas used for prolonged periods of time by the sick person. Wait up to 24 hours before cleaning and disinfecting to minimize potential for other employees being exposed to respiratory droplets.

Follow the CDC cleaning and disinfection recommendations:

  • Clean dirty surfaces with soap and water before disinfecting them.
  • To disinfect surfaces, use products that meet EPA criteria for use against SARS-Cov-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and are appropriate for the surface.
  • Be sure to follow the instructions on the product labels to ensure safe and effective use.
  • You may need to wear additional personal protective equipment, depending on the setting and disinfectant product you are using.

If other employees may have been exposed to the virus, you may need to take additional precautions:

  • If an employee is confirmed to have COVID-19, employers should inform other employees of their possible exposure, but maintain confidentiality as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act.
  • Employees who test positive for COVID-19 should be excluded from work and remain in home isolation if they do not need to be hospitalized.
  • Employers may need to work with local health departments to determine which employees may have had close contact with the employee with COVID-19 and who may need to take additional precautions, including exclusion from work and remaining at home.
  • Most workplaces should follow the Public Health Recommendations for Community-Related Exposure and instruct potentially exposed employees to stay home for 14 days, telework if possible, and self-monitor for symptoms.

If an employee has been exposed but is not showing symptoms, should I let them work?

Employees may have been exposed if they are in “close contact” of someone who is infected, which is defined as being within about 6 feet of a person with COVID-19 for a prolonged period of time:

  • Potentially exposed employees who have symptoms of COVID-19 should self-isolate and follow CDC recommended steps.
  • Potentially exposed employees who do not have symptoms should remain at home or in a comparable setting and practice social distancing for 14 days.

All other employees should self-monitor for symptoms and wear cloth face coverings when in public. If they develop symptoms, they should notify their supervisor and stay home.

What testing does CDC recommend for employees in a workplace?

CDC does not recommend that employers use antibody tests to determine which employees can work. Antibody tests check a blood sample for past infection with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. CDC does not yet know if people who recover from COVID-19 can get infected again. Viral tests check a respiratory sample (such as swabs of the inside of the nose) for current infection with SARS-CoV-2.

Different states and jurisdictions may have their own guidance and priorities for viral testing in workplaces. Testing in the workplace could be arranged through a company’s occupational health provider or in consultation with the local or state health department.

What should I do if I find out several days after an employee worked that he or she was diagnosed with COVID-19?

  • If it has been less than 7 days since the sick employee used the facility, clean and disinfect all areas used by the sick employee following the CDC cleaning and disinfection recommendations.
  • If it has been 7 days or more, additional cleaning and disinfection is not necessary. Continue routinely cleaning and disinfecting all high-touch surfaces in the facility.
  • Other employees may have been exposed to the virus if they were in “close contact” (within approximately 6 feet) of the sick employee for a prolonged period of time. Make sure they are informed and take appropriate action.
  • Employees not considered exposed should self-monitor for symptoms. If they develop symptoms, they should notify their supervisor and stay home.

When should an employee suspected or confirmed to have COVID-19 return to work?

Sick employees should follow steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Employees should not return to work until they meet the criteria to discontinue home isolation and have consulted with a healthcare provider.

Employers should not require a sick employee to provide a negative COVID-19 test result or healthcare provider’s note to return to work. Employees with COVID-19 who have stayed home can stop home isolation and return to work when they have met one of the sets of criteria found here.

How do I keep employees who interact with customers safe?

To keep your employees safe, you should:

  • Consider options to increase physical space between employees and customers such as erecting partitions and marking floors to guide spacing at least 6 feet apart.
  • At least once a day, clean and disinfect surfaces that are frequently touched by multiple people. This includes door handles, desks, phones, light switches and faucets.
  • Consider assigning a person to rotate throughout the workplace to clean and disinfect surfaces.
  • Consider scheduling handwashing breaks so employees can wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol.
  • Consider scheduling a relief person to give cashiers and service desk employees an opportunity to wash their hands.
  • Additional information on how to keep employees safe can be found in the CDC Guidance for Businesses and Employers.

What can be done to protect employees who cannot maintain social distancing from other employees or customers?

Evaluate your workplace to identify situations where employees cannot maintain a distance of at least 6 feet from each other and/or customers. Use appropriate combinations of controls following the hierarchy of controls to address these situations to limit the spread of COVID-19. Make sure the workspace is well-ventilated.

Place handwashing stations or hand sanitizers with at least 60 percent alcohol throughout the workplace for employees and customers. Use touch-free stations where possible. Make sure restrooms are well-stocked with soap and paper towels. Provide training and other administrative policies to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Use cloth face coverings as appropriate, and recommend that customers and other visitors wear cloth face coverings.

Should we screen employees for COVID-19 symptoms (i.e. temperature checks)? What is the best way to do that?

Screening employees is an optional strategy that employers may use. However, screening or health checks will not be completely effective because asymptomatic individuals or individuals with mild nonspecific symptoms may not realize they are infected and may pass through screening. Screening and health checks are not a replacement for other protective measures such as social distancing.

Consider encouraging individuals planning to enter the workplace to self-screen prior to coming onsite and not to attempt to enter the workplace if any of the following are present:

  • Symptoms of COVID-19.
  • Fever equal to or higher than 100.4 degrees.
  • Are under evaluation for COVID-19 (for example, waiting for the results of a viral test to confirm infection).
  • Have been diagnosed with COVID-19 and not yet cleared to discontinue isolation.

Content of screening questions

If you decide to actively screen employees for symptoms rather than relying on self-screening, consider focusing the screening questions on new or unexpected symptoms (e.g., a chronic cough would not be a positive screen). Consider including these symptoms:

  • Fever or feeling feverish (chills, sweating).
  • New cough.
  • Difficulty breathing.
  • Sore throat.
  • Muscle aches or body aches.
  • Vomiting or diarrhea.
  • New loss of taste or smell.

Should I require employees to provide doctors’ notes or positive COVID-19 test results?

Employers should not require sick employees to provide a COVID-19 test result or a healthcare provider’s note to validate their illness, qualify for sick leave or to return to work. Healthcare provider offices and medical facilities may be extremely busy and not able to provide such documentation in a timely manner.

[HFA COVID-19 Recovery Resources]

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