You Don’t Need to Chart Your Employee’s Covid Symptoms

The VP of Administrative Services is in charge of the office Covid policy. We do have a Manager of Human Resources who is certified but for some reason is not involved in the decision making. 

A staff accountant (call her Jane) who reports to me, sent me a text message on a Saturday to let me know she had tested positive for Covid. I forwarded it to my supervisor, the SVP of Finance.  She let our VP  of Admin know. Meanwhile Jane informed two co-workers who she had spent time with that she had tested positive. 

Our Admin VP informed Jane she had to report her Covid symptoms to her each day so she could chart them. She also told her it was not appropriate that she had informed other employees about her Covid status. 

My questions:
1)Is reporting of detailed symptoms required? Wouldn’t a simple statement each day saying she still had Covid symptoms suffice? Why is charting the symptoms necessary?

2) Can she control what health information Jane shares with others? Jane informed me before notifying other co-workers.

Oh boy. While I advise companies to have a specific Covid contact person, that is to make things easier not harder. The CDC and individual state guidelines are always changing, so it’s best to have one person who keeps an eye on all that stuff. This person does not need to keep an eye on individual people who are sick.

Your SVP of Administrative Services is your Covid contact person. Super. She is aware that Jane has Covid. What she should do:

  1. Say, “Oh, Jane! I’m so sorry! Of course, you’ll need to quarantine and follow your doctor’s instructions! What can we do to help? We’ll get you set up for FFCRA pay right away!” (That is, if you have fewer than 500 employees.)
  2. Because Jane has already notified everyone, there’s no need for the Covid contact to do so, but if she hadn’t, I like this template from the Harvard Business Review

Someone in our workplace has tested positive for Covid-19, and they have identified you as a close contact according to the CDC definition. We are here to support you. If you are at work, please prepare to leave as quickly as you can. Once you get home — or if you are already working from there — find a place to self-isolate, monitor yourself for any symptoms, and talk to your doctors. How can I support you in doing all this?”

I’m not a huge fan of what happened here, which is Jane tells you, you tell someone else, and that person tells a third person. As the manager, Jane was right to tell you, but you should have skipped your VP and gone straight to the Covid contact.

3. Inform Jane of the CDC guidelines for return, which are:

  • 10 days since onset of symptoms (or positive test, if asymptomatic)
  • 24 hours with no fever and no fever-reducing medications (including ibuprofen, acetaminophen, etc.)
  • Improved Covid symptoms (but not perfectly healthy). The CDC specifically says that loss of taste and smell can last for months.

4. Wait for Jane to meet these criteria and then let her return to work. (If Jane’s doctor says she should stay out longer, then, of course, we defer to her doctor.)

5. The end.

Under no circumstances should Jane be required to call in daily and report her symptoms to the Covid contact. She has no need to know. Jane is at home, quarantining, and listening to her own doctor’s instructions. You’ve told everyone who meets the exposure guidelines to quarantine for 14 days.

This is why we don’t allow nosey people to be a part of the Covid contact team.

As for your second question, she cannot control what Jane says to others. Talking about working conditions is a right under the National Labor Relations Act. We normally hear about this when employees discuss salaries, but it also applies to talking about Covid infections. Jane is free to talk all she wants, as are her coworkers.

As her boss, you are in the best position to support Jane and her coworkers. If they can work from home, great. If they can’t, and you have fewer than 500 employees, they are eligible for FFCRA. And, for the love of Pete, don’t require Jane to report in on her symptoms.

If you have a workplace dilemma, email me at EvilHRLady@gmail.com.

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5 thoughts on “You Don’t Need to Chart Your Employee’s Covid Symptoms

  1. Thank you for the awesome advice. Dealing with an incredibly-contagious, possibly deadly, pandemic is new territory for most of us. Management tends to err by either being too restrictive — trying to “keep it quiet” and not providing necessary information to those with whom the affected employee may have come into contact — and being too intrusive, like the manager demanding daily symptom reports. It’s great to have solid, factual, guidance upon which we can rely. Thanks, again!

  2. Loved the comment in the article that nosy people (or better described as control freaks) can’t be in a contact team. They totally ignore working with the facts and obsess over the details. At least in this situation, the employee with COVID-19 made a point to let her immediate co-workers know of their possible exposure, (however the rules) because they can address their individual needs to be tested faster. Timing is important in contact tracking, especially for those who had a prolonged daily interaction with an infected individual. It is part of the maybe of this virus–can anyone know how their body will react?
    But overall the article gave clear concise approach to handling an exposed employee and the needed workplace reaction.

  3. I note that the CDC has just issued new guidance that you are deemed to have been exposed to COVID-19 if you have been within 6 feet of an infected individual for a total of 15 minutes within a 24 hour period. That’s a big change from their prior standard, which was 15 consecutive minutes. As a result, the pool of coworkers to be notified of possible exposure has dramatically expanded.

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