Is contact tracing required by law?
In general, employers are not required to trace the COVID-19 contacts of their employees. Some states, however, require employers to notify employees about potential exposure. Employers may also need to inform the local health department of the exposure. This notification amounts to indirect, internal contact tracing.
Even if your state does not have these mandates, it may be a good practice to engage in some form of contact tracing to maintain a safe and healthy workplace and in the event health departments seek information from you.
Employers should, however, maintain employee confidentiality. Alarming the entire staff by disclosing a single COVID-19 diagnosis may do more harm than good in some situations. Most employees can remain at work even after exposure as long as they self-monitor for symptoms and wear a face mask.
Is contact tracing required by law for customers or visitors?
Contact tracing for customers and visitors is also not required. Just like tracking for employees, however, it might be good practice to note any visitors displaying symptoms of COVID-19. Getting specific health information from visitors and customers is more difficult than with employees.
Generally, businesses may screen visitors for COVID-19 symptoms, including fever. In most states, you can also ask about exposure and limit access for those exposed. You can also require a COVID-19 Liability Waiver to enter the premises or use your services Finally, you can request contact information from visitors in many situations, like when they are in close proximity to staff and members of the public.
Can a business be sued due to a COVID-19 infection?
In general, businesses may be sued over COVID-19 infections. While workers' compensation restrictions might limit legal exposure for COVID-19 cases in employees, others are also starting to assert "take home" cases. These cases are brought by family members and others who contracted COVID-19 from a loved one exposed at work.
General workplace safety violations could be grounds for a COVID-19 lawsuit. These cases, however, are in early stages and it is unclear how courts across the country will handle them.
Does workers' compensation apply to COVID-19 infections?
There is no straightforward answer to this question. Workers' compensation generally does not cover routine illnesses like the cold or flu because those ailments may not be tied to the workplace. COVID-19 exposure, however, is easier to track in some situations. If it is clear that the COVID-19 exposure occurred at work, the workers' compensation statutes may apply.
Some employers may have liability beyond the limits established under workers' compensation. For example, there may be exceptions for an employer's "gross negligence" and "intentional conduct." If, for instance, an employer refuses to provide protective gear or knows about a COVID-19 case but does not send that employee home, that could be grounds to trigger these exceptions.
What are the benefits of continued contact tracing?
Contact tracing can spot potential problem areas and address them right away. By knowing when and where exposures may have happened, employers can take steps to keep other employees and guests safe. This is particularly helpful for employees that have a completed Vaccine Exemption Form.
Tracking potential exposures may decrease legal liability as well. For example, imagine an employee contracts COVID-19 but continues to come to work for several days after they show symptoms. Then, they return home after a positive test result. If the positive employee sits near some staff members regularly but not others, you can let the affected workers know about the potential exposure. They can then decide how they want to proceed.
In that situation, imagine you also know that the only other two employees that were potentially exposed are limited to a specific area and do not work anywhere else. Then, when another employee in a different department claims they were exposed at work, you have a good defense as an employer. Knowing and understanding how your employees interact with one another can help limit liability in COVID-19 cases.
Learn more about your obligations in your state and industry by contacting a Rocket Lawyer On Call® attorney. You can also learn more about COVID-19 legal issues by visiting our COVID-19 Legal Center.
This article contains general legal information and does not contain legal advice. Rocket Lawyer is not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, please ask a lawyer.