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FAQ: What to do if your employee has COVID-19

Feb 16, 2022 | Entertainment Reopening Guide, Hotel COVID-19 Operations Guide, Reopening 2021, Restaurant Reopening Guide

Below are FAQs designed to help employers determine the next steps with a variety of scenarios when an employee has a potential or confirmed positive case of COVID-19.

Here are some key definitions you’ll need to know as these terms are used several times when determining the next steps:


Quarantine – Individuals who are not “up to date” on the vaccine and have had close contact with someone who has COVID-19. Individuals need to stay home and away from people for at least five days and monitor their symptoms. (Those who are up to date and symptom-free after close contact do not need to quarantine.)

(Additional CDC guidance)

Isolation – Individuals who test positive for COVID-19 or have symptoms regardless of vaccination status. These individuals need to stay in a separate room from other household members and away from others for at least five days and monitor their symptoms.
(Additional CDC guidance)

Fully vaccinated– A person is considered fully vaccinated if two weeks have passed since receiving the second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna series, or if two weeks have passed since receiving the single dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. (CDC)

Up to date – A person is considered “up to date” two weeks after they have received their booster dose after being fully vaccinated. (CDC)

Close contact means “6-15-48.” That is interaction with a person that was closer than six feet away for more than 15 cumulative minutes in a 24-hour period, within the last 48 hours. For example, three individual five-minute exposures for a total of 15 minutes. Mask wearing by either individual is not a factor when making this determination.

HELSA The prior proclamations regarding the increased protections for workers during public health emergencies are now law when there is a federal- or state-declared public health emergency involving an infectious or contagious disease, such as COVID-19. This May 2021 law includes reporting requirements when there is an outbreak at your business.

Click here to learn about HELSA rules protecting high-risk employees during public health emergencies.

What do I need to give an employee who says they’ve contracted COVID?  What do we have to do?

Workers who have COVID-19 symptoms or who share they have a confirmed positive COVID-19 infection should immediately leave the workplace and isolate per CDC guidance. Employers need to notify employees of their paid sick leave benefits and determine if the employee has potentially exposed others at the workplace.

Next steps can be confusing. However, the state Department of Health has a decision tree to help individuals determine what to do next depending on the situation.

How do I determine who has been exposed to an infected employee?

The CDC defines “close contact” as being less than six feet away from an infected person a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more over a 48-hour period (for example, three individual five-minute exposures for a total of 15 minutes). An infected person can spread the virus starting two days before they have any symptoms (or, for asymptomatic people, two days before the positive specimen collection date).

Team members with a likely or confirmed positive infection should immediately leave the workplace and isolate. In addition:

  • Employers need to notify all co-workers who meet the HELSA rule
  • Employers need to notify all co-workers who may have had close contact with the employee

Employers should reach out to their local health department to report a possible workplace outbreak and determine next steps for assessing the potential exposure at the workplace. Efforts should be made to determine who had close contact with the employee.

If an employee who has been exposed tells other staff members they may have been exposed, what am I obligated to do for the exposed employee(s)?

Employees are free to disclose their personal health information if they chose to tell other employees. Whether they disclose this information to one or more of their co-workers does not change what an employer can share with other employees.

Employers cannot disclose personal health details with other employees, such as identifying, by name, an employee who has tested positive. However, employers are obligated to notify other employees at the workplace. When a positive case is confirmed, employers need to notify certain employees of potential exposure to a verified COVID-19 case within one business day. The notice must be in English and the primary language employees speak. You must notify other employees who were at the workplace at the same time as the infected employee starting two days before the test sample was collected if asymptomatic.

Do not disclose the names or other personally indefinable information about the employee(s) that test positive.

Can I ask the vaccination status of my employee? 

Yes.  Employers can and should ask for the vaccination status of any confirmed COVID-19 positive employee as that will guide next steps for quarantine or isolation.

Employees who test positive for COVID-19 or have symptoms need to isolate and monitor their symptoms according to current CDC guidance regardless of their vaccination status. Refer to the CDC guidance for next steps as the isolation timeline varies depending on if symptoms emerge.

What kind of test is appropriate?

There are multiple testing options:

  • PCR tests can determine current and recent infections. They are highly accurate, but results may take several days to come back.
  • Antigen (rapid) tests also determine current and recent infections. These tests may be more practical for worksites that require frequent testing. However, they are less accurate than the PCR test.
  • Antibody tests will check for a past infection. They do not diagnose an active infection.

Employers will need to determine whether PCR or Antigen tests are best for their business and employees.

Do we need a negative test to return to work?

A negative COVID-19 test is not required for returning to work. However, employers may require employees to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test before returning to work as part of the company’s policy. The CDC also recommends testing to confirm if an individual has COVID-19 if they are symptomatic.

If I require a negative test to return to work, do I have to pay my employee to get tested?

Yes. If the employer requires any testing as a condition of employment, the employer should pay for the employee’s time and cost of the test to avoid a potential wage claim. Employees who test voluntarily on their own time may do so at their own expense. But if an employer requires COVID-19 testing to enter the workplace, employers need to pay for the testing expenses and time to test.

Employers may be eligible for tax credits or deductions from costs associated with testing requirements. Consult with your CPA to learn about potential tax savings.

Is there a Federal or state tax credit or relief program for the employer with infected employees?

Businesses that have been severely impacted by the pandemic may qualify for Sick and Family Leave tax credits. Learn more about these tax credits on the IRS website and by talking with your CPA.

If an employee requests to use available Paid Sick Leave, what do I owe the employee?  The shift they missed or the entire five-day quarantine period?

Employers are only required to provide paid sick leave for the actual scheduled shifts employees missed. Being absent because of COVID-19 illness is no different than when an employee requests paid sick leave for other covered reasons. 

Do I have to pay PSST to an employee who has been exposed?

Workers who may have been exposed or have a confirmed positive infection should stay home and isolate per CDC guidance. Workers may choose to use paid sick leave if required to leave work under these circumstances. Employers cannot force or require employees to use their paid sick leave.

Again, you only need to provide paid sick leave for the scheduled shifts, or hours missed, just like any covered paid sick leave. For example, if your employee must stay home five days to quarantine, but they were scheduled to work only 8 hours on Wednesday and Thursday that week, they are eligible for 16 hours of paid leave. PFML benefits do not qualify for quarantine situations.

Just like quarantine, if your employee is staying home under isolation, you only need to provide paid sick leave benefits for only shifts missed, just like other sick days. However, they may be eligible for PFML if they have a “serious health condition.”  Best practice if your employee is isolating as a result of a positive COVID-19 test is to provide them with their PFML rights notice and refer them to Employment Security Department where they can learn more about their PFML benefits.

Disinformation debunker: It does not matter where the employee was exposed when determining paid sick leave benefits, just like with any illness. It doesn’t matter if the exposure happened at the workplace or during off time.  The employer must allow an employee the option of using available paid sick if following quarantine or isolation protocols.

What if my employee has run out of Sick Leave? What is my role in Paid Family Leave?

Employees that exhaust their paid sick leave may be eligible for PFML if ESD determines they have a “serious health condition.” Best practice is to provide them with their PFML rights notice and refer them to the Employment Security Department where they can learn more about their PFML benefits.

Employers are required to notify any employee about the PFML program within five business days after they receive information that the employee might qualify, such as an absence of three consecutive days or more because of a serious health condition or to care for a family member with a serious health condition. Learn more about the PFML program and download the required employee notice in our Paid Family Medical Leave toolkit.