At first, contact tracing might feel like a complicated job reserved for government officials or epidemiological experts.
However, although the government does play a role in informing people of their risk and analyzing the bigger picture of how a virus spreads, employers also have an important role to play in contact tracing.
Keeping track of who may have been exposed to a virus is important both for employees’ wellbeing and for a company’s bottom line. Besides the obvious benefit of sparing people from unnecessarily becoming ill, having a solid plan for what to do if someone tests positive for a contagious disease in your workplace can make all employees feel less stressed and more safe when coming into work every day — even if an outbreak never happens.
Plus, if COVID-19 or any other contagious future disease renders enough of your employees unable to work, it could have disastrous effects on your ability to stay afloat.
Here’s what you need to know about making a plan to keep potentially infected people from spreading the virus further in your workplace.
How to Make a Plan/Policy
The first step in contact tracing is making a clear plan for what you’ll do if someone in your workplace tests positive for the novel coronavirus (or any other contagious disease that you want to track carefully in the future).
The plan should include details on the following:
- How employees should report a positive test – Employees need to know exactly who to contact if they do test positive, whether it’s their immediate manager or an HR rep. Managers should also know who to alert when their reports test positive, and the importance of immediate communication (including what to do if some of the original suggested points of contact aren’t available or don’t respond in real-time).
- How you’ll track exposure and determine who is at risk – Keeping logs of who has been in the building and who has used certain meeting rooms — including details on the timing of when they arrived and left — can be really helpful for contact tracing. Some offices are taking things a step further and adopting wearable digital tools or smartphone apps that can track exactly where a person goes physically in the office throughout the day. That way, if they test positive later, the app can analyze exactly who they’ve been in contact with when they were likely contagious. According to the CDC, “a close contact is someone who was within 6 feet of an infected person for at least 15 minutes starting from 48 hours before illness onset until the time the patient is isolated. They should stay home, maintain social distancing, and self-monitor until 14 days from the last date of exposure.”
- How employees will be notified if they’ve been exposed – Once you determine who has been exposed, your team will need to notify those exposed employees. You’ll need a clear internal plan for those communications. Who will be in charge of contacting employees, and what contact methods will they use? Who will take care of the job if the originally designated employee isn’t available immediately? How will you keep records that you contacted exposed employees, and who will be in charge of maintaining those records?
- What will happen after employees are exposed – If employees know in advance what will happen if they do test positive, that will cut down on the confusion and stress in the moment that they’re notified. Managers also need to know the plan well so that they can be prepared to give exposed employees all the info right away. In general, all employees who have been exposed should quarantine at home, although there are some exceptions for essential businesses and workers.
How to Respect Employee Privacy
As this SHRM article sums up, a COVID-19 diagnosis is considered confidential medical information under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Employers should treat a COVID-19 diagnosis the same way they would with other confidential medical information and avoid sharing it with anyone else.
This includes keeping the names of people who have tested positive for the coronavirus confidential when notifying other employees of their potential exposure.
However, employers do have the right to ask employees if they have symptoms or have been diagnosed with COVID-19 without violating the Americans with Disabilities Act, according to guidance from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
According to other experts quoted by SHRM, employers may also describe where the person worked within the office and give other details about the scope of their work as it pertains to their transmission risk.
If other employees can deduce who has tested positive based on the work description, that’s unfortunate but not considered an invasion of privacy from a legal standpoint.
How to Support Exposed Employees
Telling employees that they may have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 isn’t exactly pleasant. It’s normal for employees to respond emotionally.
For example, some employees may be extremely worried about their own health and their family’s health. Others may resent what they consider to be an intrusion and even refuse to accept the fact that they’re at heightened risk. Regardless of their level of concern about their personal health, they may all worry about how staying away from the office, factory floor, or job site will affect their paychecks and their careers.
That’s why it’s so important for the people in charge of workplace contact tracing to approach employees with this news calmly, with empathy, and and with a clear plan. It’s a serious conversation to have and to make time for, and not news that should be delivered tersely or with an electronic notification.
Let them know that there won’t be any negative repercussions for employees taking the full time required to quarantine. The Families First Coronavirus Response Act requires employers to provide employees with paid sick leave or expanded medical leave in these circumstances.
Support them with the tools they’ll need to work from home (if they are able to) and explain that the company will fully support their time in quarantine.
Giving them all the time they need will increase the odds that they’ll wait to come back to work when they’re fully healthy, and supporting them through a rough time will make it easier for them to quickly get back into the flow of work once they’ve returned.
Best Practices for Easier Contact Tracing
As you can imagine, you can save your team a lot of work and stress if you make a better effort to keep working employees separate. As we mentioned already, if employees aren’t within six feet of each other for 15 minutes, they won’t even qualify for precautionary measures.
So, if employees don’t share conference rooms for meetings and they generally stick to their own wings of the office when they’re on site — or if they simply work from home as much as possible — the job of contact tracing gets a lot less complicated.
The right technology can also make contact tracing much easier. For example, visitor management software can help you keep reliable records of who is in the office at any given day and time.The right technology can make contact tracing much easier. Click To Tweet
With a visitor management program like The Receptionist for iPad, visitors and even employees can check in completely contactlessly using their smartphones. Visitor records are stored securely in case they’re needed for contact tracing purposes later. These records can also come in handy for things like administrative planning and safety (such as in the event of an emergency evacuation).
You can try the full system for two weeks in our no-obligation trial. Just head over to our home page and submit your email address to get started. Or, get in touch to arrange a custom demo so we can show you exactly how the program would work for your workplace.
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