As employers and HR departments attempt to maintain a safe workplace for both employees and customers, there has been a need for an efficient and effective process when it comes to testing for COVID-19. To help with the process and ensure that potential infections are properly addressed in the workplace and beyond, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recently provided guidelines that address five different potential testing scenarios.
Employers need to practice vigilance regarding testing and planning in the event an employee tests positive for the virus, which the CDC reiterates in the guidance it issued for non-healthcare facilities. The facilities that will require testing the most include environments where employees are often in close contact with others, in which COVID-19 exposure is more likely.
Originally released on June 3, the CDC guidelines are still subject to change, and the agency has made it clear that the guidance doesn’t override local or state public health provisions or Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recommendations. Although many employers are likely to still have many questions pertaining to testing for COVID-19, the guidelines do offer some steps to help make sure testing and monitoring takes place when needed.
The CDC Guidance for COVID-19 Testing in Five Scenarios
The CDC guidelines discuss five specific scenarios that may entail testing, which either employers or health care professionals would provide depending on the situation.
Testing Employees Who Show Signs of COVID-19
If an employee exhibits signs or symptoms of COVID-19, the employer won’t be responsible for providing any testing. In this scenario, employees who appear visibly sick or express any signs of the virus should be separated from other employees and customers and sent home. From there, employers should refer the employee to a healthcare provider who may be able to evaluate and test the employee. Employees shouldn’t return to work until they have undergone testing and either tested negative or recovered fully from the virus if they tested positive.
Symptoms may vary from case to case, but any signs of a fever, cough, or other symptoms may warrant testing.
Testing for Asymptomatic Employees Who Have or May Have Been Exposed to COVID-19
The CDC recommends that any individuals who came into contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19. Viral testing will be able to determine if people who were exposed are in the early stages of infection. The public health department may contact employers for help with confirming who was in contact with the infected employee and other potential contacts. Employers are encouraged to remain compliant with public health departments when investigating cases and during the contact tracing process to help minimize the potential spread of COVID-19, which may have a chance to infect other employees and members of the local community.
It’s also important to keep in mind that speaking openly about COVID-19 diagnoses is a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Try to avoid discussing potential and confirmed diagnoses unless necessary, which can help with the testing and contact tracing process.
Testing for Asymptomatic Employees in Special Settings Without Known or Suspected Exposure
Multiple considerations factor into the appropriate time to test and the frequency of testing needed in this scenario. In some cases, it may be possible to test all workers prior to entering the workplace, while others can entail frequent testing of employees according to a strict schedule or testing employees who have returned from a lengthy period of absence.
If employers want to determine how often they need to test for COVID-19 in the workplace, some of the factors the CDC lists for determining intervals include:
- Testing availability
- Businesses that fall into certain workplace categories as listed by the CDC
- The gap between the time of suspected exposure and development of positive results following SARS-CoV-2 viral testing
- The current or changing rate of infection within the surrounding community
- The number of employees who tested positive when testing was last conducted
- The employer’s individual experience with previous outbreaks in the workplace
Testing for Employees Who Wish to Return to Work After Testing Positive
Employers can elect to require employees who tested positive for COVID-19 to take a follow-up test after recovering prior to returning to work. However, the CDC has stated that it’s possible for the employee to test positive even after recovery as traces of the virus linger in their system. Instead, the CDC recommends that employers establish a specific time period for the employee to recover completely in lieu of testing. This is because a majority of cases entail mild illness and don’t require medical care, and individuals can follow CDC guidelines to figure out when it's best to leave quarantine and go back to work.
Surveillance for Future Potential Cases of SARS-CoV-2
This scenario will only apply in certain instances when employers find that surveilling for future cases is likely to benefit employees. Otherwise, this kind of surveillance program may not be required at any point.
No Proven Process
Because it’s still relatively early on, and the CDC and other agencies and healthcare professionals are still learning about the nature of COVID-19, the best precaution employers can take is to adhere to the current guidelines in place and adapt to these ever-changing recommendations as they evolve. Taking the steps needed to maintain a safe workplace can help make sure that both employees, customers, and the local community remain safe and healthy. In the process, employers won’t need to worry as much about potential setbacks in the long term.
In these uncertain times, it’s important for HR departments and employers to have as much insight into their workforce as possible. At Platinum Group, we offer modern and efficient solutions for your HR, accounting, and payroll. Our cloud-based payroll system has essential tools to help you hire, onboard, and manage employees remotely.
For an in-depth view of COVID-19 and its implications on the HR department, visit our COVID-19 webinar series today.