Ask the Experts: Reporting Contagious Conditions

Question: When an employee reports a contagious condition or ailment such as (for example) lice, measles, or meningitis, what should the company do?

Answer: The company should require that the employee obtain a health professional’s release to return to work, but must also be considerate of the fact that the employee’s medical condition is private, although contagious. In order to protect the health and welfare of all employees and prevent any employee concern that a potentially contagious situation might trigger, employers should consider the following actions:

  1. Thoroughly clean and disinfect all work areas that the employee came in contact with in accordance with the guidelines available (refer to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website and enter the illness in the search field in the upper right corner to obtain information relevant to the illness exposure).
  2. Contact your workers’ compensation carrier or broker for information and advice regarding mitigating risks and managing potential future claims as a result of this situation.
  3. Issue a statement to employees explaining the issue.

Consider the following sample communication to staff:

A recent exposure of [illness] was responsibly reported by a co-worker and as such I am providing the following reminder and information regarding this situation for your knowledge. We have thoroughly cleaned and disinfected the work areas that may have been exposed.*

At no time should an employee’s medical condition be discussed; such matters are always considered personal and private and every employee may expect to be treated with fairness and confidentiality in this regard. Below is information for your awareness and protection. In the event you experience any symptoms, seek medical attention and notify [Name at 111-111-1111.]

Refer to the CDC website for details regarding the specific illness to complete the next section of the communication:

[Illness Name] (state which type, if applicable)

[cut and paste General Information]

[cut and paste Treatment]

[cut and paste Diagnosis]

[cut and paste Prevention and Control]

For more information regarding [illness] go to: [insert CDC link to relevant material]

*If the co-worker is back to work and not contagious, add: We have received medical certification that this co-worker is not contagious and there is no cause for alarm. If the co-worker is not back to work add: The co-worker is under medical treatment and is not in the office.