COVID related conversations are never easy. Especially when there is a positive case in the workplace. Fears and anxieties will be high. There will be lots of questions. And employees and customers alike will want answers at the ready. With so much sensitive information involved, having a clear, confident and empathetic talk track is a must. In this article, we’ll discuss what to do if employees test positive for COVID and provide a few sample scripts to get you started.
How to communicate with an employee testing positive for COVID-19:
It can be difficult to know what to say when someone tested positive for COVID-19, especially in a work setting. If a positive test result crosses your desk, follow these steps:
- As soon as you learn that an employee or co-worker tested positive for COVID, encourage them to seek immediate medical advice from their healthcare provider to determine whether isolation or other next steps are appropriate.
- It’s important that you discuss next steps. Inform them of any quarantine requirements and be sure to lay out the process for returning to work after they test negative.
- Ask the employee to identify co-workers/vendors they’ve come into “close contact” (within 6 feet) for a prolonged period of time (10-30 minutes depending on the interaction) in the last 14 days, according to the CDC. Make a full list.
- Provide the employees with information on sick leave and other applicable benefits (e.g. local/federal benefits such as TDI and COVID-19 related absences under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.
- Remember, take action with empathy. Your employee is likely anxious even if their symptoms may be mild.
Sample conversation: “John, I know that this is a scary thing to deal with. I understand that you may not be able to work for a little while or that you might be a little distracted. Don’t worry about that, I understand. If you have to miss work because your healthcare provider recommends that you isolate, please keep me posted. I know you might be concerned about your paycheck but there are paid leave benefits that you may qualify for under the Families First COronavirus Response Act. ”
How to communicate with an employee who has been exposed or in “close contact” with an employee testing positive:
A major part of what to do if employees test positive for COVID is to notify anyone that may have been in close contact or has been at risk of exposure. Chances are that when working in close quarters, another worker was likely exposed to COVID-19. This can be a stressful experience for your employees. Follow these tips for how to handle this situation:
- Inform and send home any individuals who came into close contact with the affected employee.
- Expect a lot of questions. Stick to the facts. (e.g. the definition of “close contact”, what date/approximate time they were exposed, that the employee who tested positive is not at work and is seeking medical care and advice.)
- Advise them to consult their healthcare professional to determine if quarantining or testing is necessary.
- DO NOT identify the name of the affected employee. Keep their health information confidential, per the ADA, HIPAA, and other state laws.
Sample conversation: “Someone in our workplace has tested positive for COVID-19, and they have identified you as a close contact according to the CDC definition. We are here to support you. If you are at work, please prepare to leave as quickly as you can. Once you get home, please talk to your doctor to see if you need to get tested or self-quarantine and monitor yourself for symptoms.”
How to communicate with the rest of your team:
In addition to proper communication with those who have tested positive or been in close contact, you’ll also need to communicate with the rest of your team. But how do you proceed without creating panic within your office? It’s important that all of your employees know what to do if employees test positive for COVID and that your leadership teams be prepared to handle any questions.
Here’s how you can give your employees guidance without sharing any personal information:
- State the facts and don’t overshare.
- Respect the confidentiality of the affected employees
- Assign someone on staff as the sole spokesperson to triage employee questions
- Give a timeline for safe reopening and what employees can expect in the short-term
This type of announcement is typically sent via email. If you’re not sure what to say, you may use this positive COVID test email template.
Aloha, We learned [today] that one of our employees has tested positive for/contracted COVID-19. The person who tested positive on [date] is now [self-isolating]. [Identify the area(s) where and the date(s) when the employee frequently worked].
Due to privacy laws, we cannot identify the employee who tested positive for the virus. However, we have gathered the names of those employees or others that worked in close contact (within 6 feet for 15 minutes or more) of the employee and have been advised to leave the workplace and seek medical advice from their healthcare provider on next steps. If you were not already told you were in close contact, then you have not worked in close proximity with the employee.
At [Company Name], the health and well-being of our employees is paramount. Out of an abundance of caution, we are closing the [Location] office on [Dates]. While the office is closed, we will clean and disinfect the [Location] office. All [Location] employees with remote work capabilities are expected to work from home while the office is closed. Each employee should consult with their manager for additional instructions.
Should you have any questions or concerns, please contact [Company Contact]. The company is here to support everyone during this difficult time, and we all send our best wishes to the people affected. You may also check the CDC COVID-19 website for additional information, and also check out Hawaii’s health department website.
How to communicate to customers, the public, or media:
Depending on your industry, there’s a chance you’ll need to communicate with people outside of your company as well. This can feel daunting, as you may be worried about your reputation. Here’s how you can communicate with the public about an employee testing positive:
- Consider releasing a public statement on your own channels (i.e., email, website, social media, press release or sign outside of your establishment).
- Share proactive actions that have been taken to ensure a safe environment for both employees and customers. Showing that you have a plan for protecting public health in your organization will not just help people stay safe, but will also instill confidence that you’re taking action.
- Assign someone on staff as sole media spokesperson for the company. Someone who is well-versed with the situation and can speak confidently with the media.
- Give a timeline for safe reopening or back to normal business practices or hours.
You can inform customers, the public and the media using the following email response to COVID positive employees:
Aloha, [Company A] has operated during these uncertain times with tremendous regard for the health and welling of our employees and customers. We’ve required all customers and employees to [list safety precautions taken].
Despite our best efforts to provide a safe environment, we have just been informed that one of our employees at [Location] has tested positive for COVID-19 on [Date]. We believe it’s our responsibility to inform you because it is only through complete transparency that our community can combat this pandemic and start on our road to economic recovery.
Here’s what you need to know:
The employee in question worked last week in [Location] from [Date to Date].
The employee’s last shift was [Date]. The employee was feeling unwell on [Date], and got tested [Date]. We were informed [Date] that the employee has tested positive. If you feel that you have been exposed, we encourage you to seek the advice of a healthcare provider to determine whether you need to be tested.
What is being done:
- We have identified and contacted all staff and vendors who have come into “close contact” (within 6 feet) for a prolonged period of time (10-30 minutes depending on the interaction) in the last 14 days, according to the CDC.
- We have currently shut down the [Location] until [Date] while we hire a professional sanitizing company to come and deeply sanitize our business.
- [Any additional notes on operations or logistics for customers/vendors e.g. new pick-up locations, store hours etc.]
Having one of our employees tested positive for COVID-19 is something we worked very hard to prevent and hoped would never happen. Nevertheless, it is a huge reminder for all of us to be vigilant by wearing masks, socially distancing, and following recommended safety precautions to protect our families, co-workers, and community. We thank you for your patience and continued support during this pandemic.