Download: COVID-19 in the Workplace: A guide for employers - PDF
COVID-19 is circulating throughout Johnson County, Kansas so it is likely that someone in your workplace will test positive. The Johnson County Department of Health and Environment (JCDHE) is here as a resource if this should occur.
In order to reduce the risk of COVID-19 spreading in your facility, there are several things you can do.
Individuals can spread COVID-19 even before they develop symptoms, and individuals who are infectious (spreading the virus) may not have any symptoms. The symptoms of COVID-19 are wide ranging, from a loss of taste and smell to severe respiratory issues.
JCDHE recommends employers exclude employees/patrons who have at least one of the primary symptoms or two or more of the secondary symptoms. Employees with symptoms should consult with a health care provider to be tested for COVID-19 or obtain an alternative diagnosis. If an employee only has one secondary symptom, employers may consider excluding them from work until 24 hours after their symptom resolves.
Primary symptoms (at least one)
Secondary symptoms (at least two)
Masks have been shown to be an effective and low-impact way to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Throughout the region, there have been numerous instances of spread occurring in workplaces when masks were not being worn (e.g., a single employee infecting over 10% of the workforce) as well as cases where spread was not documented because both staff and patrons were wearing masks (e.g., hair salon employee who saw 84 clients while infectious and no infections were identified).
Masks may be uncomfortable, but when worn properly they can prevent your staff from becoming ill, potentially with life-threatening illnesses. There’s also the economic cost to you as a business owner: if too many employees become sick and/or exposed (and are quarantined) you run the risk of not having adequate staffing to remain open.
Masks must be worn properly, covering both the nose and mouth, to be effective. Accountability measures (e.g., empowering employees to remind their co-workers when masks aren’t being worn appropriately, a point person who is responsible on that shift, etc.) can help ensure that masks are being worn correctly.
Masks are an important component to preventing the spread of COVID-19, but they are not a guarantee that infection won’t occur. Therefore, both physical distancing measures (6 feet between staff and patrons when possible) and mask-wearing should be implemented together. Prevent staff from gathering in breakrooms and other common areas where physical distancing is not possible.
Encourage employees to conduct business and meetings virtually whenever possible. If an in-person meeting is a must, keep the size of the group to less than 10 and require attendees to wear a mask. Make sure the meeting is held in a room where people can distance from one another. If possible, hold the meeting in a room that is well ventilated.
Frequent hand washing or sanitizing is critical in preventing the transmission of COVID-19. Employees and patrons should have easy access to hand washing stations or hand sanitizer. In most types of employment, glove-wearing as a preventive measure is not recommended. Not only do gloves offer a false sense of security, they can lead to increased transmission because people are wearing gloves instead of frequently washing their hands. Using hand sanitizer on gloves leads to the degradation of those gloves and defeats their purpose. Using the same gloves over and over between serving customers is the equivalent of not washing your hands in between completing those tasks and serving those customers. Instead, it is increasing the chance of transmission each time.
When possible, employers are encouraged to create a plan that allows employees to telework from home. By limiting the number of employees at the workplace, you reduce the risk of exposure to the entire workforce.
Explore whether you can establish policies and practices, such as flexible worksites (e.g., telecommuting) and flexible work hours (e.g., staggered shifts), to increase the physical distance among employees and between employees and others. Ensure that you have the information technology and infrastructure needed to support multiple employees who may be able to work from home.
Once the plan is finalized, share your plan with employees and explain what human resources policies, workplace and leave flexibilities and pay and benefits will be available to them.
Employees should not travel to locations that are having large outbreaks of COVID-19 cases. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment frequently updates the list of locations where people will need to quarantine for 14 days after arrival in Kansas. This applies to both Kansas residents and those visiting Kansas. Go to coronavirus.kdheks.gov for the latest information.
When a case of COVID-19 occurs in the workplace, the positive employee must isolate at home, away from others, for 10 days from when their symptoms first appeared and be fever-free for 24 hours with no feverreducing medication and symptoms have improved before they can return to work. Quickly informing those people who were in close contact with the positive employee is one of the best ways to contain the spread of disease.
Due to recent legislation, JCDHE is not allowed to collect the contact information for employees who were exposed to COVID-19 without the employees’ explicit consent. If the positive employee does not consent to release information about their close contacts, it is the employer’s responsibility to notify employees who were close contacts of the individual who tested positive.
JCDHE receives notification of COVID-19 positive individuals through laboratory reports. JCDHE staff will contact these individuals to notify them of their test results, identify where they may have been exposed and who they may have exposed while infectious. During the call, the individual is asked where they work and if they were at work during their infectious period - starting three days before and 10 days after symptoms start, or their test date if they’re not showing any symptoms. They will also be asked if they have had close contact with other employees.
JCDHE may contact you if there is a positive individual in the workplace. Under HIPAA, the only time JCDHE can release the identity of an individual is to prevent the further spread of disease. For this reason, if an individual was not at work while infectious or was not in close contact with individuals, then the employer will not be notified to protect the confidentiality of patient health information.
If an individual does not cooperate with an investigation (e.g., not answering the phone, not providing their workplace, etc.), then JCDHE will not know about a potential workplace exposure. Additionally, if an employee works in Johnson County but lives in another jurisdiction, JCDHE will not be notified. Notification practices of employers may vary by the health department of residence.
You may also be notified by an employee of the positive test result and may never be contacted by JCDHE. In this case, you do not need to inform JCDHE, but you may reach out via email if you have any questions at [email protected].
Employees who test positive for COVID-19 should be excluded from work until:
JCDHE does not recommend requiring a negative COVID-19 test result before returning to work. A COVID-19 positive individual is no longer infectious if they have been fever-free for 24 hours (without the use of medication), their symptoms have improved, and it’s been at least 10 days since their symptoms began. It is possible for an individual to test positive for a period of time after their symptoms go away. This does not mean they are still infectious. For this reason, JCDHE recommends following the return to work guidelines above.
If JCDHE interviews a COVID-positive individual and they worked while infectious and may have exposed other individuals, JCDHE will notify the employer and work with them to identify potentially exposed individuals. An exposed individual is anyone who the COVID-positive individual had ‘close contact’ with starting three days before their onset of symptoms, or their test date if they’re not showing any symptoms. Coronavirus is spread through respiratory droplets (spit) of someone who is infected; it spreads efficiently in enclosed areas (e.g., enclosed offices, vehicles, etc.).
Individuals who are identified as having close contact with the COVID-19 positive individual and were unmasked or not wearing a mask properly will need to be excluded from work for 14 days from their last contact with the COVID-19 positive individual and quarantine at home.
A ‘close contact’ is considered:
The sample letter at the end of this document can be adjusted for your use to send to employees notifying them of their exposure. To protect the identity of the individual, never release information about who was positive. These employees do not need to be tested for COVID-19 unless their health care provider advises them to do so. If the exposed employee is tested during their 14-day quarantine and is negative for COVID-19, they still need to complete the 14-day quarantine before returning to work, as symptoms can take up to 14 days to develop.
If employees (the ill individual and his/her contacts) were always wearing masks properly (covering nose and mouth), then people identified as close contacts are at a lower risk of infection and do not need to be excluded. Individuals who were in the office at the same time as the positive employee, but farther away than 6 feet and limited contact (less than 10 minutes) do not need to be excluded, but can be notified of the exposure and reminded that COVID-19 is in our community and all residents should be monitoring themselves for signs and symptoms, wearing masks when in public, maintaining physical distance of 6 feet or more from other individuals and washing hands frequently with soap and water. A sample letter in this document has been developed to send to these low-risk employees. To protect the identity of the individual, never release information about who was positive. These employees do not need to be tested for COVID-19 unless their health care provider advises them to do so.
Employees may be notified that they are a close contact of a COVID-positive individual outside the workplace (e.g., family member, social contact, etc.). These employees should be excluded from work for 14 days following their last interaction with the positive individual. If the close contact is a household member who is unable to isolate themselves away from the other household members, this may result in an individual being excluded from work for longer than 14 days (14 day quarantine from the last day the household member was infectious, which is at least 10 days after their onset of symptoms).
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) provide guidance to employers on cleaning and disinfecting your building or facility if someone is sick.