Wear a mask. Use hand sanitizer. Maintain six feet from each other. While we've heard the guidance and are trying our best, people do get sick. So what if your coworker is one of those people? Do you have the right to know if they have the #Coronavirus?
**The short answer is no: **there is no national law that requires employers to notify employees if a coworker tests positive for COVID-19. In absence of a federal law, some states have stepped in.
Three states — #California, #Michigan, and #Virginia — have laws requiring employers to notify employees of COVID cases in the workplace. For the other 47 states, no such law exists. Guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that employers notify employees if a coworker tests positive, but that is a recommendation, not a legal requirement. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is the federal agency in charge of protecting workers, but it is not *enforcing *CDC guidelines. So for the majority of Americans, being notified that your coworker was diagnosed with Coronavirus is at the discretion of your employer.
State Assembly member Eloise Reyes introduced a bill in June 2020 that would require employers to notify employees, Cal/OSHA, and the Department of Health if an employee tests positive for COVID-19 in the workplace in California. (In Los Angeles County, workplaces are required to report outbreaks to the Department of Public Health after at least three people have tested positive for the virus.) The bill addresses the privacy concerns: names won’t be mentioned and employees will simply be told they’ve been exposed to someone who tested positive.
A rapidly growing number of companies are taking action to prevent employees from discussing possible COVID-19 diagnoses in their workplaces. Hundreds of US employers across a wide range of industries have told workers not to share information about COVID-19 cases — or even raise concerns about the virus, according to workplace complaints filed with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and OSHA.
In many cases, workers say their bosses cited employee privacy to justify the silence, including federal privacy laws, such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA). But these laws were not intended to silence employees on safety matters. On the contrary, federal laws — including those created by OSHA and the NLRB — *guarantee employees the right to communicate *about and protest their job conditions.
If you're concerned, start the conversation with your employer. Approach the topic as a collaboration to keep the team safe. Suggest ways that you and your coworkers can help your employer disseminate COVID information to others on the team. Whether it’s self-reporting or just opening up the line of communication and sharing information, working together and taking a thoughtful approach can help build a healthy work environment.
What do you think about COVID at work? Share your thoughts in the comments below.