COVID-19 Workplace Exposure

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The following questions, answers, and resources can help you establish protocols to follow when an employee has symptoms of COVID-19, tests positive for COVID-19 and when an employee has been exposed to someone confirmed to have COVID-19.

What Should I Do If An Employee Tests Positive?

AB 685 (Chapter 84, Statutes of 2020) is a new California law that requires employers to notify employees who may have been exposed to COVID-19 and to report workplace outbreaks of COVID-19 to their local health department.

Report Workplace Outbreaks

Contact County of Sonoma Public Health Disease Control Department at (707) 565-4566 immediately after three or more laboratory-confirmed cases of COVID-19 occur among workers who live in different households within a two-week period. Remember to be proactive—identification of even a single positive case among workers may quickly develop into a large outbreak. Ask to speak with a Lead Public Health Nurse to report the exposure and to provide information about contact with other employees/clients/customers. Based on certain criteria, you must also report outbreaks to local health officials, see the California Department of Public Health’s Guidance for Reporting COVID-19 in the Workplace and Responding to COVID-19 in the Workplace for Employers. Employers may receive assistance to plan and coordinate a response that meets the needs of outbreak circumstances and work practices.

Under AB 685, a COVID-19 case is someone who:

  • Has a positive viral test for COVID-19,
  • Is diagnosed with COVID-19 by a licensed health care provider
  • Is ordered to isolate for COVID-19 by a public health official,
  • Dies due to COVID-19, as determined by a public health department.

Employer Guidance on AB 685: Definitions

Notify Employees of Workplace Outbreaks

Upon identifying a COVID-19 case in the workplace, you need to provide the following information:

  • Notice to your employees and the employer of subcontracted workers that they may have been exposed to COVID-19. You can inform other workers of the dates that an individual with COVID-19 was at the worksite but should not share information that could identify the affected individual. You must also provide this information to the exclusive labor representative, if any.
  • Information about benefits & options. You must provide your employees with information about COVID-19 benefits under federal, state, or local laws. This includes workers' compensation, company sick leave, state-mandated leave, supplemental sick leave, negotiated leave, and anti-retaliation and anti-discrimination protections.
  • A disinfection & safety plan. You need to inform your employees and the employer of subcontracted workers of your disinfection and safety plan for the worksite, in accordance with CDC guidelines. You must also provide this information to the exclusive labor representative, if any.

What’s Next? 

Your employee must isolate from others and not be at work. (Isolation means staying in their home, in a room away from others, wearing a mask when in common areas.) These employees can only return to work after these three criteria are met:

  • 10 days since the symptoms first appeared, AND
  • 24 hours with no fever (above 100.0F) without the use of fever-reducing medications, AND
  • COVID-19 symptoms (cough, shortness of breath, chills, etc.) have improved.

How Do You Determine Who Has Been Exposed?

Exposure occurs:

  • When the employee is less than 6 feet away from the COVID-19 positive person for 15 minutes or longer
  • 48 hours or less prior to the COVID-19 positive person having symptoms.

What if an employee has symptoms of COVID-19?

When an employee becomes ill with COVID-19 type symptoms while at work, they should be sent home immediately. They should consult with their health care provider to determine if they need to be tested. If the healthcare provider determines they are likely to have COVID-19 or they have a positive test result, then they must isolate and not return to work until these three criteria are met:

  • 10 days since the symptoms first appeared, AND
  • 24 hours with no fever (above 100.0F) without the use of fever-reducing medications, AND
  • COVID-19 symptoms (cough, shortness of breath, chills, etc.) have improved.

It is important to note that if an employee has met these 3 criteria, they do not have to be retested to return to work. The CDC does not recommend using a test-based strategy for returning to work. Ten days after the symptoms and fever resolve, some people with confirmed COVID-19 will continue to have positive viral tests for several weeks, even though they are otherwise healthy and no longer contagious This is because you can still have non-contagious dead viruses and viral debris in your system. A symptom-based screening strategy is sufficient to identify when an individual may return to work.

If a healthcare provider determines they are not likely to have COVID-19, the employee can return to work when:

  • The symptoms improve and they feel better.
  • 24 hours with no fever (above 100.0F) without the use of fever-reducing medications.

If your employee continues to have no symptoms, they can return to work 10 days after the date of the positive viral test for COVID-19.

Immediate Aftermath

Determine which workplace areas need to be temporarily closed and arrange for enhanced cleaning and disinfection. Keep such areas closed for at least 24 hours. Make sure the cleaning service adheres to the CDC’s Interim Recommendations for U.S. Community Facilities with Suspected/Confirmed Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19).

Be prepared to provide information to employees to support them while quarantined, such as sick/medical leave resources and what to do when they are ready to return to work.

Consult with the manager of your disability insurance program regarding potential workers’ compensation, unemployment, and processes.

What To Expect Next

Public Health Disease Control will interview the employee who tested positive and everyone exposed to the person. They will also interview supervisors, managers, and other leaders in the employer’s organization. In addition, Public Health Disease Control will contact the employee’s healthcare provider or hospital to determine medical components and gather information in a thoughtful and systematic way to make the best recommendations regarding who was exposed and the level of risk.

What Steps Can I Take to Reduce Risk in the Workplace?

Get Compliant

The Sonoma County Health Officer requires all businesses to create a Social Distancing Protocol & COVID-19 Site-Specific Protection Plan (Appendix A) to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and keep businesses open. Here is how you can get started: 

  1. Review required  state guidance for your industry.
  2. Create a plan following  Appendix A of  Health Order C-19-15.
  3. Self Certify your business with  Sonoma Safe
  4. Review and distribute the plan with employees. 
  5. Post your Appendix A plan and your self-certification certificate in your business where it is accessible to the public and employees.

Urgency Ordinance Poster

SoCo COVID-19 Check App

Employers are encouraged to use the free SoCo COVID-19 Employee Check Mobile App to check and document that all employees complete a COVID-19 symptom screening daily. The App automatically reports data to the County, excluding personally identifiable information.

Additional Resources and Information