Federal laws do not require employers to disclose positive cases
By: Megan Luther and Lee Zurik
Originally Published: August 6, 2020
When a national chain retail employee at a clothing store in Florida said she found out she worked side-by-side with her COVID-19 positive coworker, she immediately got tested.
She told InvestigateTV her supervisors and managers never told her. She found out from a coworker who forwarded the managers’ group text messages.
“It was a huge breach of trust. I think that a lot of the employees were just frustrated,” she said. Her test results were negative.
The same thing happened to a logistics worker at a South Carolina hospital, who also found out from a coworker.
“I just feel it’s a shady thing to do,” he said. He has not been tested for COVID-19.
InvestigateTV is not naming the employees who fear they will lose their jobs for speaking publicly.
There’s no national law that requires employers to notify employees if a coworker tests positive for COVID-19.
Just three states – California, Michigan and Virginia – confirmed to InvestigateTV that they have laws requiring employers to notify employees of COVID cases in the workplace.
InvestigateTV contacted all 50 states and D.C. and learned that at least 31 states do not have notification laws; 17 states did not respond.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines recommend that employers notify employees if a coworker tests positive.
In addition to public health reasons, employer notifications are good for the bottom line, according to a labor attorney.
“You want your business to continue to operate. You want to be profitable, right? What does that mean? You want to have as many healthy employees as you can,” said Tulane University Labor Law Professor Joel Friedman.
“Forget about doing the right thing, their purely mercenary, business profit interest to inform everybody to make sure it doesn’t spread,” he said.
The family of an Illinois employee who died of COVID-19 filed a lawsuit against Walmart in April. The suit alleges the retailer did not protect and failed to warn employees about coworkers who experienced symptoms and may be infected with the virus, according to court records.
The company has filed a motion to dismiss the litigation.
Walmart currently has a policy requiring managers to notify associates if an employee tests positive.
“Our associates’ safety is a top priority, and we continue to take measures to protect them at work,” according to a company spokesperson, who also listed out safety measures including providing masks and gloves for associates.
Nearly 300 complaints have been filed with the Occupational Health and Safety Administration by employees claiming their workplaces didn’t communicate about COVID-19, according to an OSHA spokesperson.
The retail employee in Florida said she filed a human resources complaint but has not heard back.
“It’s the employees’ rights to know. Managers might not know what underlying conditions that an employee has or what their family has. And I think it’s extremely important to just share that information,” she said.
The state of Florida, where she works, does not require notification.
Rose Wagner contributed to this report.