Do you have the right to know if a coworker tests positive for COVID-19?

As COVID-19 cases swell in the workplace, employees raise safety concerns

HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - With the recent spike in coronavirus cases, legal experts say more and more employees want to know what their rights are if a co-worker tests positive.

“If employees don’t feel safe and feel required to work in unsafe circumstances, then the employer has to stand up and do something about that,” said attorney Eric Seitz.

Seitz represents a number of school teachers with underlying health conditions who are worried that the Department of Education isn’t taking enough precautions for this month’s reopening.

He said unionized workers like school teachers can file grievances if they feel unsafe. But he added that non-union workers also have protections.

“If you have employees who are very scared about going to work because they may get sick and die from this virus, they theoretically can go out on temporary disability or on worker’s compensation based on the psychological and emotional distress they’re suffering from,” Seitz said.

Whether employers must inform employees if a co-worker tests positive is unclear. Seitz said an employer can be sued if an employee gets infected.

“It’s my understanding the employer is not obligated to inform the employees,” added Sherry Menor-McNamara, CEO of the Chamber of Commerce Hawaii.

“However, it would probably be in the best interests just so other employees are aware that there has been a case so they can protect themselves.”

She said employers are trying their best to keep their workplaces safe by providing things like temperature scans for workers and by installing Plexiglass sneeze guards and barriers.

“They’re also doing their own type of contact tracing in terms of making sure they know where their employees were (when they got) sick,” she said.

“For businesses, it’s ultimately the health and safety and protection of employees as well as their clients and consumers.”

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