Employee Privacy During COVID-19 | Coronavirus and Workplace Privacy

Date: May 5, 2020
Posted In: In The Community | Press

Employee Privacy In The COVID-19 Era

Employers throughout the U.S.- and the world- are now dealing with the dilemma of how to treat information regarding employees who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 or have been exposed to COVID-19. Can an employer disclose that an employee has tested positive for COVID-19? And does an employer face civil liability for sharing- or for not sharing- that information? This demonstrates the delicate balance between individual privacy versus public health and safety concerns.

Should an employer learn that an employee has tested positive for COVID-19, the employer should take the prudent route and advise their other employees of the positive diagnosis. However, they should do so with disclosing the identity of that employee. The employer may ask the COVID-19 positive employee if they have his/her permission to disclose his/her identity to co-workers, but they should be careful not to place the COVID-19 positive employee under any pressure or duress to disclose his/her identity or other private information.

The employer may also ask the COVID-19 positive employee to identify co-workers who may have shared the same work space, used the same restrooms, shared the same vehicle, dined in the same cafeteria, rode the same elevators, etc. An employer may also ask an employee who has tested positive for COVID-19 to provide information regarding the identities of other individuals with whom the employee has had personal physical contact (within 6 to 10 feet) as related to their employment. For example, customers, sales contacts, vendors, etc.

In the event that an employer is not able to secure consent from COVID-19 positive employee, the employer should still contact specific co-employees, customers, sales contacts, vendors, etc. and advise them that someone with whom they were recently in contact has tested positive for COVID-19 and that they should seek medical attention and/or testing.

Tom Cummings
Thomas P. Cummings has been a Partner with Dougherty Leventhal & Price, LLP since 1996 and has been with the firm since 1991. He focuses his practice on workers’ compensation, Social Security Disability and personal injury cases.