Guidance for Supervisors Regarding COVID-19 Protocols

As GW leaders, it is crucial that we demonstrate care for the GW community. The university is working diligently to ensure the health and safety of the GW community, including adhering to the guidance of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (C.D.C.) and D.C. and Virginia health departments.

One key effort the university has undertaken is the creation of the Campus COVID-19 Support Team (CCST) to carry out COVID-19 testing for the on-campus student, faculty, and staff populations. 

In the coming months, we must prepare for the potential for a percentage of our GW community to test positive for COVID-19 or be exposed to someone who has tested positive. In these circumstances, the university expects leaders to demonstrate care. In order to be in compliance with various federal, state, and local laws regarding the disclosure of private medical information, you may not be told that specific employees have tested positive for COVID-19. Such information will instead be vetted through the appropriate channels so that the situation can be handled safely and appropriately. Consistent with existing university policy, all medical statements regarding absence from work should continue to be provided to the HR Business Partner. In the upcoming months, employees may need to work remotely or take time off or leave for any number of reasons, which may not relate to COVID-19. Further information on leave and time off can be found on the Human Resource Management and Development website.

We have created the following process steps for supervisors to address when an employee notifies their supervisor that they will need to work remotely or take a leave of absence:

  1. Upon receiving a request from the employee to work remotely:

  • Assess whether the staff function can be performed remotely

  • Consult with your HR Business Partner (HRBP) on the continuity of business operations

  • If staff functions cannot be performed remotely, work with the HRBP to assess time off, leave eligibility (FMLA), or period of approved paid/unpaid leave. Please visit this guide to help you determine options for time off and leave.

  1. Upon receiving a request from the employee to take an absence for a defined period of time due to an illness. Please consult with your HRBP regarding:

  • Sick/Pandemic leave status

  • Eligibility for FMLA or ADA Accommodation

  • Approval of a period of paid/unpaid leave

  • Continuity of business operations

Communicating as a Supervisor

All supervisors should have a staff meeting to discuss communication expectations, stressing the importance of confidentiality in the workplace. The supervisor should reassure the staff that the university has protocols in place to ensure the health and safety of our community. Equally important, the supervisor should also note that there are a myriad of non-COVID-19 related reasons a staff person may need to be absent or need to telework.  If staff members press you for more information about an absent colleague, remind them that their own health information would be similarly protected in the event they were to get sick and to respect their co-workers’ privacy. You may also reassure them that in the event they are known to have been exposed to any person in the GW or greater DC community, contact tracers will be contacting them to provide them with necessary information.

Please also remind coworkers not to engage in any discriminatory and/or retaliatory behavior upon the staff person’s return to work/campus, which can include excluding the staff person from work-related matters or spreading speculation about the staff person’s absence being related to COVID-19 or any other medical condition.  Such behavior may violate university policies. See the GW Non-Retaliation Policy and the GW Equal Opportunity, Nondiscrimination, Anti-Harassment and Non-Retaliation Policy

Finally, sharing information regarding a staff person’s absence or telework request should be limited to your HR Business Partner. If there are operational challenges that require consultation with other supervisors, please consult with your HRBP first. In the event a staff member is unable to work, have a discussion with those staff members temporarily assuming their duties without discussing any medical reasons for the period of leave or getting into specifics as to the expected length of leave. You may discuss generally whether the interim arrangement is expected to last short or long term. 

It is possible that an employee’s absence may cause some operational challenges.  However, do not take any adverse action against a staff person based on approved absence from the work place. Any adverse action taken may be a violation of university policies on retaliation and discrimination as well as applicable federal, state and local employment laws.

On-Campus Essential Staff Pay Status if in Isolation or Quarantine

We have also prepared this guide to support you and your employee as you determine the employee’s appropriate time off and leave eligibility for the given scenario. Please also visit the Benefits website for further information on other benefits an employee may be eligible for. Depending on the duration of staff member's illness, FMLA and/or short-term disability (if Workers’ Compensation is not applicable) may also be available.

 

Frequently Asked Questions

If I am concerned about an employee exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19, can I refer the employee to be screened for COVID?

It depends. If a manager wishes to screen just one employee for COVID-19, they must have a reasonable belief, based on objective evidence, that the employee might have the disease. In addition, managers may not require screening of employees working remotely even if they are concerned that the employee may be exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19.

Can I ask an employee entering the workplace whether a family member has COVID-19 or any of its associated symptoms?

No.  The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (“GINA”) prohibits employers from asking employees medical questions about family members.  However, it is not prohibited to ask employees whether they have had contact with anyone diagnosed with COVID-19 or who may have symptoms associated with the illness.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, may an employer request information from employees who work on-site, whether regularly or occasionally, who report feeling ill or who call in sick?

Yes, during the pandemic, those inquiries are permissible.  GW’s current policy indicates that after three days a supervisor can require a medical note to return to work.  Current EEOC guidelines provide that during the pandemic, it is permissible to require a medical note, even if the employee is absent one day. However, supervisors should continue to follow GW policy and direct the employee to provide the medical note or diagnosis to their HRBP rather than to the supervisor directly.

Example:

Paul is on campus and reports needing to go home because of feeling sick. You can ask Paul what are his symptoms (i.e. headache, fever, chills, etc.).  You can further require Paul to have a doctor’s note to return to work.

 

Confidentiality of Medical Information

If I learn that an employee has COVID-19 or symptoms associated with the illness, what should I do?

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act as amended (ADA) Supervisors must keep all employee medical information confidential. Information that an employee has symptoms or a diagnosis of COVID-19, is medical information.  However, a supervisor is not prevented from reporting this information to the appropriate university officials, herein Occupational Health, so that they can take actions consistent with CDC and other public health authority guidance.

Supervisors should make every effort to limit the number of people to whom they disclose the employee’s identity.

The ADA does not bar the employer from alerting co-workers, without revealing the employee’s identity, that they may have had workplace exposure to someone with COVID-19 using a generic descriptor, such as telling staff that “someone at this location” or “someone on the fourth floor” has COVID-19. However, supervisors should not make this disclosure themselves unless directed to do so by their HR Business Partner or the Occupational Health department. Even if co-workers may be able to figure out who the employee is, supervisors are still prohibited from confirming or revealing the employee’s identity. Revealing a sick employee’s identity or diagnosis may result in disciplinary action.

What if an employee learns that a co-worker who reports to the workplace has symptoms associated with COVID-19? Does the ADA’s confidentiality requirement prohibit the employee from disclosing it to the supervisor?

No. The ADA does not prevent the employee from telling their supervisor about a co-worker’s symptoms.  However, upon learning about the situation, the supervisor should contact Occupational Health to discuss next steps. The supervisor should further advise the employee not to share and/or discuss this information with other coworkers.

If I am aware that an employee is teleworking because the employee is self-quarantining due to COVID-19 or symptoms associated with it may I tell staff that the employee is teleworking, without explaining why?

Yes, if staff must know how to contact the employee, and the employee is working remotely, the employer may disclose that the employee is teleworking without saying why. Likewise, if an employee is on leave rather than teleworking because the employee has COVID-19, its associated symptoms, or any other medical condition, the employer may disclose that the employee is on leave, but not the reasons for the leave.

While employees are instructed to provide medical information to their HRBP, if you happen to receive medical information directly, how should supervisors and managers working remotely to keep medical information confidential?

If a supervisor receives medical information involving COVID-19, or any other medical information while teleworking, the supervisor still must safeguard medical information to the greatest extent possible until he or she can properly store it.

Moreover, be mindful of notepads, laptops, or other devices in the household left where others can access protected information. Similarly, documentation must not be stored electronically where others can access it. Also, supervisors may wish to use employee initials or another code to further ensure confidentiality.