Adapted from our December 2, 2020 newsletter. Information is current as of Dec. 2, 2020.
While some companies have, unfortunately, become very adept at handling issues when employees test positive for COVID-19, for others this is still a new experience.
Remember the definition of close contact: less than 6 feet apart and more than 15 minutes of contact within a 24-hour time period.
Updates to quarantine guidelines: On December 2, the CDC updated their quarantine guidelines. The new guidelines are consistent with what the Minnesota Department of Health recommends for employees who work for businesses in the critical infrastructure:
- Employees should still quarantine for 14 days, if possible.
- Quarantine can end after Day 10 without testing and if no symptoms have been reported. Testing is widely available in Minnesota, so employees should still get tested. Quarantine can end after seven days if there are no symptoms and a negative test. The test should be done within 48 hours of the final day of quarantine (so, on day 5). Employees should continue to monitor for symptoms.
If you have an employee who lives with someone who is positive: Tell employees that someone is quarantining because of a close contact. People may know who it is, but don’t reveal names unless the person gives you the okay to do so.
- Emphasize the need to wear masks (covering the mouth and nose!) while at work.
- Emphasize the need to physically distance.
- Emphasize the need to keep track of their physical well-being and to stay home if they develop any symptoms.
- Remind everyone that people are best able to spread the disease before symptoms develop, which is why masks and distance are so important.
What if an employee does not want to wear a mask at work? That becomes a discipline or enforcement issue, treated like refusing to do any other part of the job.
The first step is to try to determine if there’s a good reason why they refuse to wear masks. If it’s because it is infringing on their rights, that’s not an acceptable excuse. If it is a comfort issue or safety glasses fog up, try different masks (or look up many of the online suggestions to prevent fogging). If it is because masks are too difficult to breathe through, try different masks.
If the employee becomes sick or infects someone else at work, that second case is considered work-related and you will be required to file a first report of injury for it – you need to file for each case that seems due to workplace transmission.
What it comes down to: if employees won’t wear masks, they should not be at work.
Can someone with a beard or mustache wear a mask? Yes. Even if you’re hairy-faced, the face covering will stop most of those respiratory droplets that can make others sick. But the mask won’t do a good job of keeping you safe from others. For that, you need a mask that fits tightly to your face.
The story is different if you’re wearing a respirator to protect yourself. The CDC has a simple infographic on facial hairstyles and filtering facepiece respirators (N95s). If facial hair interferes with the mask sitting directly on the skin, the mask will not be effective at protecting you.
Who should be tested? As of November 25, Minnesota has updated their recommendations on who should get a COVID19 test:
- Anyone with symptoms should get a test immediately. Symptoms include: loss of taste or smell, shortness of breath, fever, chills, headache, muscle pain, or sore throat.
- Anyone who has been exposed to someone who is positive should be tested five days after that exposure.
- Anyone who is still working at places that remained open. Minnesota recommends that everyone going into work be tested at least once before December 18. Even better, get tested now and then be tested again at the end of four weeks. Why? According to a recent study in The Lancet Microbe, you are most likely to transmit the disease from two days before symptoms appear to five days after. If we can catch and trace positive cases in December, we increase our ability to stop the virus.
To find a free testing location, go to: https://www.health.state.mn.us/diseases/coronavirus/testsites/index.html. You can even have a saliva test sent to your home.
You can also download the Minnesota COVID notification app, which will let you know if you have had contact with someone who tested positive. More information is available here: https://mn.gov/governor/news/#/detail/appId/1/id/455263
What if an employee asks to take a voluntary lay-off due to COVID? It’s really up to you as an employer, but some considerations:
- Is the employee high risk or living with people at high risk? If so, it’s good will to allow this and a way to increase the chances of this employee being able to return to work.
- Is there any work that the employee could do from home? If the employee works in a position other than office-based, that’s unlikely.
- How short-staffed will you be without this employee?
- If the employee expects to collect unemployment, not take vacation/sick leave, there are considerations for you, as the employer, and for the employee. According to the Governor’s Executive Order 20-05, unemployment benefits paid as a result of COVID will not be considered when your unemployment tax rate is calculated for 2021. You might get a notice that your account will be charged for unemployment benefits paid, but the state unemployment office states that they’ll review the account and remove those charges without you having to do anything.
The employee may not be eligible for unemployment benefits if it’s a voluntary unpaid leave of absence. For more information, look at https://www.uimn.org/employers/employer-account/news-updates/covid-19.jsp