With winter quickly approaching, employers face the usual spate of employees with seasonal flu and common colds. This year, however, cold and flu season coincides with spiking COVID-19 cases nationwide. Given the importance of reducing the chances of workplace COVID-19 transmission, how should employers react when an employee demonstrates symptoms consistent with non-COVID-19 illnesses?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently released a resource document entitled "Similarities and Differences between Flu and COVID-19." The document notes that in many situations symptoms could be consistent with COVID-19 and usual winter illnesses, and that employers should adhere to CDC guidance on COVID-19 exposure until that possibility is eliminated.
Practically, employers will likely tell employees to stay away from the workplace if they are exhibiting any signs of illness. Cautious employers will also follow CDC return-to-work guidelines for such employees under the assumption that they may have COVID-19. Under those guidelines, a negative COVID-19 test is not sufficient alone to permit an employee to return to work.
The only silver lining in this situation is that with widespread use of masks, social distancing, and flu vaccinations, the usual rates of seasonal illnesses are expected to be much lower this year.