Every week we comb through the news to find employment trends affecting the hospitality industry so you don’t have to. This week’s topic: how to handle a positive COVID test at work.  

More than seven months into the pandemic, we’re still trying to navigate our new normal, particularly in the workplace. Because of that, there are few sentences that strike more fear than an employee or colleague saying, “I tested positive for COVID”.  

These 5 words evoke a lot of questions: How do I handle a positive COVID test at work? What should I do? How can I make sure I/my team is safe? Do we need to shut down? In this post, we’ll be answering those questions and looking into CDC protocols in order to help you create a response plan if someone where you work tests positive for the coronavirus.  

How to Handle a Positive COVID Test at Work

When you’ve been notified that someone at your business has tested positive, your first priority needs to be ensuring no one else, yourself included, becomes infected. Worst case scenario, you could become superspreader, which is “when a single person infects a large number of other people, or when a gathering is linked to a large number of cases.” Not only is this dangerous, but it will be difficult to make your business feel like a safe space again. 

Next, you should refer to CDC and local/state protocols to understand what’s required of you when an employee discloses that theyve tested positive. While you should do your own research when creating a response plan, here are some of the key takeaways from the CDC: 

  • Wait 24 hours before cleaning and disinfecting to minimize potential for other employees being exposed to respiratory droplets. Then follow CDC disinfecting guidelines, while continuing regular daily cleaning.  
  • If an employee is confirmed to have COVID-19, employers should inform fellow employees of their possible exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace but maintain confidentiality as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). 
  • Employees who test positive for COVID-19 should be excluded from work and remain in home isolation if they do not need to be hospitalized. Employers should provide education to employees on what to do if they are sick. 
  • Most workplaces should follow the Public Health Recommendations for Community-Related Exposure and instruct potentially exposed employees to stay home for 14 days, telework if possible, and self-monitor for symptoms.  

Working at a restaurant in particular means close, hands on contact with food and beverages, often making it difficult to remain socially distant from customers. Because of that, it’s crucial to follow CDC guidelines and recommendations to keep your employees and guests safe. In addition to the CDC recommendations, we suggest the following tips when deciding how to handle a positive COVID test at work:

Be prepared
You should have a COVID plan in place prior to a positive test result. By being prepared, you’ll feel less frantic in case the situation arises.  

Part of this preparation includes a daily reminder of the overall hygiene requirements that are necessary when working with the public, such as regular use of PPE, social distancing, temperature taking, consistent hand-washing, and staying home if presenting symptoms.  

Respond quickly
Knowing that one of your employees tested positive can be scary, but in order to support your team as best as possible, you need to act quickly. Communication should begin immediately and should be as transparent as possible without violating any confidentiality guidelines set by ADA or HIPAA  

Use caution
Of coursewe should all be using caution during a pandemic –– but there are restaurant specific cautions recommended by the CDC in order to reduce transmission, especially if someone has tested positive. These include: 

  • Staggered shift times to reduce the number of people checking-in at once 
  • Creating a back-up staffing plan incase several team members are symptoms or test positive. Consider working with a staffing partner like LGC to provide supplemental staff to fill any open gaps and keep business running.  
  • Encouraging employees to stay home if not feeling well. Calling off your shift, especially in the restaurant industry, is a huge no-no – but these days, it’s irresponsible to take the risk. Show your team that you’re serious about safety by encouraging those with symptoms to stay home.  
  • If you need to, close the restaurant while you notify other workers and begin disinfection. While it’s not ideal (or mandated by law), it will reduce possible transmission to other employees or customers while you put your plan in place.  

Someone at work testing positive is serious and can be frightening for other employees; remember that we’re all facing challenges during the pandemic and should be extended kindness and understanding, especially at work. Knowing how to handle a positive COVID test at work is vital for keeping your team safe. By following CDC and local guidelines, staying prepared, and responding quickly, businesses can manage a positive test and resume daily operations when it’s safe to do so.