Trump | What to do if a COVID-positive employee comes to work

What to do if a COVID-positive employee comes to work

Recently, it was revealed the US President Donald Trump had contracted the COVID-19 virus.

Whilst the President was forced to spend several nights in hospital, Trump today insisted on returning to the White House to continue receiving treatment.

However, concerns have been raised about the health implications of Trump’s return to the Oval Office, as several other White House staff have also tested positive for the virus over the past two days – according to the BBC.

Trump’s case and level of seniority in leadership may be unique, yet the news does shed light on a key issue for HR; what should HR do if a sick employee comes into work?

If you've identified an employee who has entered the workplace with obvious signs of illness, the first step is to send them home; if they feel capable of continuing to work, then they can do so remotely, or choose to take the day as a statutory sick day and receive revised pay in line with this – Acas reported.

Yet whilst sending an employee home may help them recover, the obvious solution to preventing outbreaks within the workplace is prevention; A high temperature is one of the primary symptoms of COVID-19 and as such, temperature checking at work can assist in reducing the number of infections by turning away those who are flagged as potential cases. While employees are currently encouraged to work from home where they can, temperature screening can be a useful tool for those with no option but to go into their workplace.

And going forward, implementing screening may be an essential, if employers are to adhere to their statutory obligation to ensure the health and safety of employees. With the likelihood of many virus-related practices carrying on into the future – this means doing what is reasonably practicable to prevent the spread of illness at work.

However, Alexandra Bullmore, Employment Lawyer at Smith Partnership noted that it’s important that all data collected on employee health is dealt with and collected responsibly. She said: “The current legislation defines information about an employee's health as a ‘special category of personal data’, meaning that it can only be processed by employers in limited circumstances.

"This needs to be carefully considered as any breach can be extremely costly, fines can be issued by the ICO, employees may commence legal action against the company, as well as any reputational damage which may be caused."

Managing health and safety in the workplace

The World Health Organisation (WHO) explained that screening should be one of a combination of measures employed to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace. A few other measures to employ include:

Address risks. Together with employees, examine the various risks, touch points, and vulnerabilities within your work environments and strategise to mitigate those risks.

Work from home. Where it is possible for workers to conduct their duties from home, they should not be compelled to come into work.

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Self-screening. Workers who cannot work from home should be encouraged to self-screen, especially where they have a long commute. This reduces the chance of contact where someone believes they may be infected.

Distancing. While two-metre distancing may be relaxed in future, distancing is one way to minimise infections. This can be achieved through redesigned workspaces, staggered hours, funnelling busy walkways, and addressing potential bottleneck areas.

Virus and bacterial control. COVID-19 can remain infectious on inanimate objects from hours to days. Conducting regular fogging or deep cleans and automated UV control can serve to decontaminate touch points and work environments.

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