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Should we inform customers if an employee tests positive for COVID-19?

Toby Graham /

Here’s a question that came in from one of our recent COVID-19 webinars…

Q: Should we inform customers if an employee tests positive for COVID-19? Who and how?

Here’s what our expert had to say:

To start, the facility management staff should seek out their legal counsel and the public health department concerning who should be informed of the positive case. 

We are dealing with sensitive information here and it needs to be handled delicately. 

The public health departments typically have individuals on staff who specialize in contact tracing. Contact tracing is a technique used in outbreaks where a trained individual attempts to track down individuals who may have come into contact with someone who had a positive case.  They interview the positive case victim and then trace their recent history back and attempt to contact those individuals who may have been infected.  These people are trained to handle the confidentiality of the case and they are experienced in answering questions and providing information to a person who is being informed of this unplanned news. 

If this is a single isolated case, and good follow up procedures have been put into place, then hopefully it is just an isolated event and the workplace is sanitized and in the clear again. 

If multiple cases start to occur with the facility being the common share point, then the public health department needs to be informed so they may step in on the contact tracing front. 

Generally, absent any specific state or local law, or absent specific industry requirements, businesses are not obligated to disclose the existence of COVID-19 cases in their workforces to outside parties (i.e. to customers). However, businesses can choose to do so as long as they maintain the privacy of the employee (i.e., do not disclose the name of the employee or any personal information). Disclosing to customers who have come in contact with the infected employee may be beneficial for the business from a public relations standpoint.  However, logistically, it may be difficult, or impossible, to inform all customers depending on the size of the business, and because there may be no easy way to contact these customers. 

So as stated at the beginning, we at KPA recommend reaching out to local legal counsel and the public health department. On a final note, COVID-19 is now deemed as an OSHA recordable case if it is a work-related case. So, if the victim is sent to inpatient hospitalization then OSHA would potentially need to be informed as well.

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