What the Gov: Should Employers Notify Staff If an Employee Has COVID-19?

The pandemic has caused employers to change how they do business to protect the health of customers and employees alike. What information should they share with staff if an employee tests positive for the coronavirus?

Justin German/BGA

This article is part of a series called What the Gov?, where the BGA takes reader questions and tracks down the answers. We are devoting resources to covering how local and state governments are responding to the coronavirus outbreak. We are committed to reporting on what you want to know. Ask your questions here.

As Illinois approaches 50,000 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus, businesses across the state are being tested like never before. Many have closed their doors or shifted to operating remotely, and even those allowed to stay open have had to make changes to help keep both customers and staff safe.

The pandemic has resulted in an array of government rules and regulations. But what rules are in place for businesses that find out one of their employees is confirmed to have the coronavirus?

“Does my employer have to disclose if any employee is sick with COVID-19 symptoms?” one reader asked. The question was posed to the Better Government Association as part of our ongoing “What the Gov” series in which we sort out how state and local government in Illinois is grappling with the outbreak of COVID-19.

The answer is yes, though the Illinois Department of Public Health has posted it in the form of “recommended strategies” on its website. The guidance tells employers to notify staff members if an employee tests positive for the virus while making sure to maintain that individual’s privacy.

“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),” the guidance states.

An IDPH spokesperson confirmed that guidance remains in effect, adding that workers who may have been exposed would also be contacted by their local health department as part of the contact tracing process.

Employers should reach out to their local public health department for additional guidance, the spokesperson said.

A spokesperson for the Cook County Department of Public Health told us the department recommends a number of additional steps to employers in this situation, including encouraging employees who test positive for the virus to follow doctor recommendations about isolating at home, asking them about whether they had close contact with anyone else at work during the time they had symptoms, and cleaning and disinfecting the workplace.