The exact action plan leaders should follow if an employee contracts coronavirus, including the emails you should be sending to staff

The exact action plan leaders should follow if an employee contracts coronavirus, including the emails you should be sending to staff

group video call meeting

  • While the majority of US employees are working from home to decrease the spread of COVID-19, there are some states that don't have stay-at-home orders, meaning that hundreds of people are still going to the office each day.
  • Given the fact that every state, the District of Columbia, and some US territories have confirmed cases of COVID-19, it's very possible businesses still operating could have an employee who becomes infected.
  • Leadership at every company must have a plan for what to do if an employee contracts the virus.
  • This includes notifying people who were in close contact with the employee, sanitizing the workplace, and putting added measures in place to facilitate social distancing within the office.
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By now, the majority of US employees are working from home in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19.

However, though 42 states, the District of Columbia, Guam, and Puerto Rico issued stay-at-home orders, there are still a few states (like Arkansas and Nebraska), that have not. Nor have they shuttered nonessential businesses.


That means there are still a good number of people going to the office each day, whether it's because they're an essential employee in a state with a lockdown or because they live in a state that has no orders in place.

Considering all 50 states (and Washington, DC, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands) have confirmed cases of COVID-19, the possibility of someone getting it in businesses that are still open is very real. Leadership at all offices must be prepared to act if an employee contracts this novel virus.

The primary reason to act, of course, is to protect the health of your employees (and yourself), but there can also be legal implications if you don't. While you can't control the spread of the virus if someone is asymptomatic or if a colleague is confirmed positive but doesn't inform you, "If [your] company became aware of a confirmed case in its workforce and failed to inform appropriate staff in a timely manner, then that lag in response time would likely be used against the company," explained Adam Calli, founder and principal consultant at Arc Human Capital, a human resources consulting firm.


Adam Calli, founder and principal consultant at Arc Human Capital

He added, "The more a company does to lessen the likelihood of disease transmission, the more difficult it would be for the company to be held liable."

So, with all that being said, here's a plan you can follow if someone in your office becomes infected with COVID-19.


Show the infected employee your support

Though it could certainly be argued that much more could have been done to prevent COVID-19 from becoming a rapidly-spreading, hard-to-control pandemic, no one willed it into being. No one asked to get it, nor are they excited when their test results are positive.

So, while this hopefully doesn't need to be said, the truth is: The last thing a sick employee needs is to feel at fault or emotionally isolated. They're already going through enough and might have a very tough physical battle ahead of them. Yes, you need to act quickly, but don't take the human element out of it.

Do your best to show compassion. Explain how the company has their back during this time. Review all organizational policies that will allow them to take the best care of themselves possible, including sick leave, paid time off, and short-term disability. If your company has 500 or less employees, the affected staff member is also eligible for the new temporary leave benefits under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA).


From now until December 31, 2020, the FFCRA provides workers impacted by COVID-19 - whether they're sick, quarantined due to exposure, or under a shelter-in-place order - with up to 80 hours (or two weeks) of fully paid leave. It's incredibly important that your staff knows that they don't have to choose between their health and getting paid.

In addition, review the infected employee's healthcare benefits with them so they know exactly how their insurance will cover any treatment they need. If you're more comfortable, you can also connect the employee with the company's health insurance representative to make sure they get the most up-to-date and accurate information possible.

Janet Phillips_Kong_VP of People


Another very crucial way you should support them is by protecting their anonymity.

"Particular care must be taken to protect the identity and privacy of the infected person," explained Janet Phillips, vice president of people at tech company Kong, "as the American with Disabilities Act privacy rules restrict employers from sharing personal health information of an employee."

Alert HR, legal, and your company's designated COVID-19 response person

Unless your company is very small, this isn't something you should be addressing on your own. The very first person you should notify is your company's head of human resources (if this isn't you).


Jennifer Ho

"HR departments are well prepared to follow standardized procedures and can ensure the protection and privacy for all employees and the employer," said Jennifer Ho, vice president of human resources at Ascentis, an HR software firm.

If your organization does not have an HR department, then you should have at least one person acting as the COVID-19 response contact. If this is the case, that's who you contact.


And, when you learn that an employee has COVID-19, "Be sure to inform [your company's] employment attorney since every situation is different," advised Calli. They can help you "explore relevant facts and discuss specific actions," he added.

Lastly, "if your workforce is unionized, there may be a need to follow certain requirements of a collective bargaining agreement," Calli explained, so it makes sense to get in touch with the union leader.

Figure out who the employee was in close proximity with, notify them immediately, and provide them with next steps

One of the very first things you must do is ask the infected employee to identify everyone they had contact with or worked in close proximity to over the course of the previous 14 days, including colleagues, vendors, and clients. Those individuals need to be notified and told what they should do next.


"Both the affected individual and those identified as in close proximity should be sent home with instructions to follow CDC guidelines for self-monitoring, obtaining care, and how to limit further exposure to others," said Phillips.

Communicate this with them as soon as possible. Ho even suggested using multiple forms of communication so you can reach each employee quickly.

"Keep the message consistent, stick to factual information, and maintain privacy throughout the conversation," she added. Of course, this requires you to have the contact information for all employees (including alternate email addresses and cell phone numbers), so if steps haven't been taken to update this in a while, do so immediately.


The simple facts to convey are: Someone they worked in close proximity with over the past 14 days has contracted COVID-19. As a result, all employees who were identified are being asked to quarantine at home for the next two weeks.

As with the infected employee, be sure to communicate with empathy. Outline all of the resources available to help them navigate this time, and be clear that you're available to answer any and all questions. Advise them to self-monitor for signs of COVID-19 and remind them what they should do if they, too, develop any symptoms.

In regards to privacy, take special care to use gender-neutral language like "they" and "their" when referring to the infected employee. Even saying "he" or "she" could risk exposing their identity.


Here's how this email could look:

Hi [employee's name],

I wanted to let you know as soon as possible that one of your colleagues has been diagnosed with COVID-19. They're no longer in the office and will be quarantining at home for at least the next two weeks.


The affected employee identified you as someone they had direct contact with or worked in close proximity with within the past two weeks. We are requiring all employees on this list to go home immediately and to self-isolate for the next 14 days because there's a potential you were exposed to the virus.

Please know that [company name] fully supports you during this time. If you feel up to working from home, please do so. If you do not, you can utilize your paid time off or sick leave. If you fear you do not have enough time off to use, please don't worry. Once you get home, you can email me or call me at [phone number] so we can figure out something that will work for you.

As a reminder, if you have medical coverage through us, you can find information about COVID-19 treatment coverage here: [website URL].


While you're at home:

  • Consistently monitor yourself for symptoms of COVID-19.
  • If you develop symptoms, call your doctor. Don't go to the ER or urgent care.
  • Feel free to reach out to us for help or to ask questions at any time.
  • Let anyone in your household know that you're quarantining and they should, too.

Again, please contact me if you have any questions. We're operating out of an abundance of caution for you and your colleagues and are here to support you in every way possible.

[Your name]


Notify your whole staff and the building management

The most pressing concern is notifying people who were in close proximity with the employee and making sure they leave to quarantine as soon as possible. But, after that, you should let your whole staff know, too. (Take note that this only applies to the affected location. If you have offices in multiple cities, you don't need to alert them all).

Not only does everyone have a right to know, as the affected employee likely touched items in common spaces and other high-touch objects like doorknobs and faucets, but this makes sure that anyone who the affected employee might have forgotten to identify on their original list is in the know and can start quarantining as soon as possible, too.

It's also important for anyone who has a health condition that would cause them to be severely impacted by contracting COVID-19, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and asthma.


This communication could look something like:

Hi [employee name(s)],

I wanted to let you know as soon as possible that one of your colleagues has been diagnosed with COVID-19. They're no longer in the office and will be quarantining at home for at least the next two weeks.


In addition, we have notified a list of people who were in close contact with the affected employee within the last two weeks. They are also going to quarantine at home for the next 14 days. You were not on this list, but if you feel that you should have been, please let us know and commence your own quarantine immediately.

Please know that we are supporting the affected employee and others quarantining fully during this time. If you have any specific questions about how, I am more than happy to answer.

We will be conducting a thorough cleaning of the office on [date]. Please do not come to work. After [date], if you do not feel comfortable coming to the office and would prefer to quarantine, please let me know and we will discuss how that will work in terms of telework and time off.


I am here to answer any questions you have. Please know that [company] is doing everything in its ability to prevent the spread and protect all of our staff.

[Your name]

Additionally, if your office is in a building that houses other organizations, "building management should be notified immediately," Phillips said. It's likely their responsibility to inform other tenants so those tenants can act accordingly, too. Plus, building management will probably want to start sanitizing common areas, like the lobby and elevator buttons, right away.


Consider other aggressive measures like extensive cleaning and social distancing to prevent the virus from spreading

Performing intensive cleaning of the office is critical - it's not enough to clean commonly-touched items. You simply never know what the infected employee has touched or coughed on (remember: one of the ways COVID-10 spreads is via droplets from coughing).

"It's imperative to close the areas of the office where the infected individual has worked and/or frequented," Mills said. "Of course, all areas of the office should be cleaned and disinfected thoroughly following CDC guidelines."

In order to do this effectively, it might be a good idea to send everyone home for a day (or at least half a day). And even after cleaning is complete, requiring all staff - even those who didn't work within six feet of their infected colleague - to telework for 14 days might be the safest way forward. For workplaces in which remote work isn't possible, consider putting employees on different shifts and operating with a skeleton crew.


Remind staff about the dire importance of practicing social distancing and review all internal policies to see which ones can be modified to better facilitate this behavior.

"For example," Calli said, "team members working staggered shifts, rotating telework assignments, avoiding sharing of common items like clipboards or pens, and even scheduling lunch times in break rooms to avoid large crowds at typical times. This will lessen the likelihood of transmission."

Calli also suggested holding all meetings virtually - by phone or video - even when employees are in the office, as this will lessen movement around the facility and decrease the amount of time with "groups in conference rooms together where they're more likely to be in close contact, making it easier for the virus to spread."


Do you have a personal experience with the coronavirus you'd like to share? Or a tip on how your town or community is handling the pandemic? Please email and tell us your story.

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