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CDA answers members' FAQ about COVID-19 exposure, testing, reporting and employee leave

September 14, 2020 2248

Quick Summary:

Members have contacted CDA Practice Support with followup questions after using the resource Reporting Symptoms/Positive Test for COVID-19 Flowchart. In this new FAQ, learn how to inform patients if a dental staff tests positive for COVID-19; whether employees are entitled to paid leave if exposed to COVID-19 in the dental office; whether practice owners can require employees to take a COVID-19 test after returning from vacation and more.

CDA Practice Support continues to publish frequently asked questions to help dentist-employers understand their obligations and options in the COVID environment. The newest FAQ answers members’ questions about COVID-19 testing, exposure and reporting and employee paid leave. Many are follow-up questions dentists have after using the CDA resource Reporting Symptoms/Positive Test for COVID-19 Flowchart. 

General questions

Under what circumstances would I need to close my practice due to COVID-19?
1.    You may be compelled by the local health department to close because of an outbreak, 
or
2.    The dentist or key staff are unable to work, and the practice cannot operate without them.

Patient-related questions

Must I inform patients that I or one of my staff tested positive for the virus?

Upon receiving notification of a positive diagnosis, ask infected staff if they were in close contact with any patient or visitor two days prior to the onset of symptoms or to testing. You can also ask other staff who work with the infected staff person to answer the same question. “Close contact” means being within six feet or less for 15 minutes or more without the use of personal protective equipment. A cloth mask or face shield worn on its own is not considered PPE.

Contact your local health department prior to notifying patients. Review with the department the information you have about the timing of the infected staff’s illness, interaction of that staff with others at your practice and your daily procedures for preventing virus transmission. The department may have other questions you should respond to but may also say it is not necessary for you to contact your patients.

If directed by the department, notify by telephone the individual patients you have determined were in close contact with the infected staff. The name and health status of the staff member with whom the patient came in close contact must be kept confidential. Inform the patient(s) of the exposure and advise them to contact their medical care provider.

Employment-related questions

What are my options if I am exposed to COVID-19 while at work? How much leave am I entitled to and will I be paid?

If you have been exposed at work, you will be dismissed from work and asked to seek medical care and report back. Your employer should document the details and date of the potential exposure and any instances of “close contact.” The identity of the individuals involved will be kept confidential.

If you are tested for COVID-19 and the test results are positive, the positive result will be reported to the practice’s workers’ compensation insurance carrier and the local health department. You may be eligible for paid sick leave under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act if you are advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine or you receive a positive test result. 

Get more details in the resource Reporting Symptoms/Positive Test for COVID-19.

My employee is experiencing symptoms consistent with COVID-19 and would like to self-quarantine for two weeks. Is the employee eligible for compensation for those two weeks?

If an employee becomes ill with COVID-19 symptoms, they may be eligible for paid sick leave under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, but only for the purpose of seeking a medical diagnosis or if a health care provider advises the employee to self-quarantine. If the employee tests positive for the virus that causes COVID-19 or is advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine, the employee may continue to take up to two weeks of paid sick leave under FFCRA. 

An employee is not eligible for paid sick leave under the FFCRA if the employee decides to self-quarantine for an illness without medical advice, even if they have COVID-19 symptoms. If an employee chooses to self-quarantine without a medical diagnosis or health care provider’s advisement, the time might be unpaid or the employee can choose to use any available employer-provided sick leave or vacation time.

Can I require an employee to take a COVID test once they return from vacation if I believe that they have not been socially distancing?

To comply with the obligation to maintain a safe work environment, employers may wish to establish a practice policy stating that, before or during daily employee screening for COVID-19, any employee who reports that they traveled outside the area will be unable to return to the workplace until they satisfy a 14-day quarantine. Employees may use available paid sick leave, vacation or paid time off; otherwise, the time could be considered unpaid.

Such a policy must be universally applied for all employees. Employers can review the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s current COVID-19 travel restrictions. Employers who wish to require post-travel quarantine are encouraged to discuss the policy with an HR expert or employment law attorney prior to implementing the policy. CDA provides a sample policy for CDA members.

Some of my staff are prone to catching colds and other respiratory illness. What do I do when they call in reporting symptoms?

Have the staff stay home, recommend they see their medical care provider and ask that they inform you if they continue to exhibit symptoms of COVID-19. If staff believes they only have a cold or allergies, you must assess and decide when to allow them to return to work. Knowing the differences between the flu and COVID-19 may be helpful in addition to trusting that your staff knows what they are experiencing. 

If an employee volunteers to take a COVID test, do I have to pay them for this time?

An employer would determine whether to pay an employee on a case-by-case basis. If the exposure was determined to be work-related, the employer should pay for the test and time taken to obtain testing. If the exposure was not work-related, the employer likely would not be responsible for paying. In either case, the employee may still be eligible for leave under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.

The CDA resource Reporting Symptoms/Positive Test for COVID-19 Flowchart shows dentists, step by step, what to do if a patient or an employee reports symptoms of COVID-19 or an employee reports exposure to a symptomatic or COVID-19-positive individual. 

Find more FAQ on employment concerns and access dozens of resources on infection control, staff training and patient screening in CDA’s Back to Practice center.