What To Do Step-By-Step When An Employee Tests Positive For COVID-19

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By: Elizabeth DiRienzo PHR, SHRM-CP, HR Advisor

It can be a gut-wrenching moment when an employee reaches out to notify the business that they have tested positive of COVID-19.

A multitude of questions will begin to cloud your thoughts and you may not know what to do next. When was the last day the employee reported to work/did the employee receive the test results while at work? Who did the employee come into contact with? Did I come into contact with the employee? What are the current CDC guidelines on exposures? What do I do next? First, take a breath and know that the local Department of Health will be involved to assist, guide, and support employers with any contact tracing and safety measures to stop the spread of COVID-19 if there is a determined exposure to the organization.

For Erie County Department of Health Testing Sites: Call 716-858-2929 to schedule an appointment.
Erie County Department of Health test results are made available within three (3) to five (5) days after
testing. Employees will receive their results via telephone. Other testing site results may vary in
obtaining results.

For Niagara County Department of Health Testing Sites: Please Click here.



There is no definitive calculation on how long an employee should wait to get tested after a close
contact. It is recommended from various health experts that employees who have been in close contact
with a positive COVID-19 case to wait to be tested until days five (5) through seven (7) after exposure
unless the employee is symptomatic or advised by a health professional to do so. It is not
recommended for employees to be tested immediately after exposure as there is an incubation period
and testing too soon may result in a false negative.

Below are general guidelines as to how to handle a positive COVID-19 case in the workplace.

Each scenario, employment industry and employee are different. Employers should be developing a business
continuity plan that encompasses business impacts related to COVID-19.

  1. The affected employee may already be home when the news breaks however, if the employee
    becomes ill while working, isolate and send the employee home immediately. The employee
    shall be instructed to seek guidance from their medical practitioner or consult with the local
    Department of Health on next steps. Employers will want to ensure familiarity with any leave
    entitlements and provide the employee information on available sick leave under Federal
    and/or State Law as applicable.


    a. Current legislation is due to sunset its’ COVID-19 leave benefits on
    December 31, 2020. No extensions have been made available as of yet.

  2. Employers should take proactive steps and gather a list of employees working alongside of, in
    capacity of, and in the building with the affected employee minimally forty-eight (48) hours
    prior to the onset of symptoms and/or positive test. The local Department of Health with work
    with both the affected employee and the employer for contact tracing purposes.


    a. Contact tracing will be conducted for close contacts (any individual within six (6) feet of
    an infected person for a total of fifteen (15) minutes or more) of laboratory-confirmed
    or probable COVID-19 patients.

  3. Employers should have a drafted employee communication prepared and disseminate to all
    employees while adhering to HIPAA and ADA regulations related to confidentiality. While
    employers should notify employees of the circumstance and the steps being taken to protect
    the business and safety of others, employers are not to violate the affected employee’s right to
    confidentiality.

  4. All employees should monitor for symptoms daily for fourteen (14) days. As apart of the New
    York State reopening guidelines, employers should be requiring a questionnaire to be completed
    before entering the workplace. Temperature checks are encouraged but not required. All New
    Yorkers have the right to a COVID-19 test and may schedule a test at their convenience.
    Employees who have subsequently fallen ill should notify management on the situation for swift
    evaluation and next steps.

  5. Depending on exposure levels, business size, and essential business components, etc., the
    employer will need to consider business continuity options related to a temporary shutdown,
    temporary remote work options, and rigorous cleaning and disinfecting protocols in the
    workplace.

  6. Employers are highly encouraged to partner with the local Department of Health to evaluate
    appropriate protocols and guidelines, such as updating and adding additional guidance for
    cleaning and disinfection.

  7. The recovered employee will be provided guidance on when they are able to return to work.
    The employee will either engage in the Symptom-Based Strategy or the Test-Based Strategy to
    be able to return to work safely. It is imperative for the employer to reiterate all anti-
    harassment polices and anti-retaliation polices in the workplace. Employees are protected from
    discrimination, harassment and related behaviors towards themselves including a diagnosis of
    COVID-19.

  8. Employees who are essential may be permitted to continue work following potential exposure
    to COVID-19, provided they remain asymptomatic and additional precautions are implemented
    to protect them, the business and the community for fourteen (14) days. Additional protocols
    for the fourteen (14) day period will include daily screening, daily monitoring of symptoms,
    required social distancing, required wearing of a face mask at all times and continued
    quarantine at home while not at work. In all cases, businesses should increase cleaning and
    sanitization practices during this timeframe.


    a. Essential employees who test positive or become symptomatic during this timeframe
    may return to work upon completing at least ten (10) days of isolation from the onset of
    symptoms or after the first positive test if the employee is asymptomatic.

This post was written by Elizabeth DiRienzo, HR Adviser at EBC HR and Payroll Solutions. EBC is a locally owned, full-fledged human capital management firm located in downtown Buffalo. EBC provides payroll, technology, and customized Human Resource consulting services to small to medium sized businesses across WNY throughout all industries. Through a combination of administrative services, technology solutions, and personalized consulting on HR and Safety matters, EBC helps local businesses maximize the value of their number one resource and asset- human capital.

Learn more about EBC HR via their information below:

Email: JDitondo@EbcInc.net

Website: EBCInc.net

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Step Out Buffalo Business

Step Out Buffalo Business is a business focused publication featuring tips and tricks for entrepreneurs and small business people in Buffalo & Western New York. We write what we know and when we don't know, we ask an expert in the field. We've gained our knowledge through experience growing businesses in various industries.

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