COVID Positive Employees: How to communicate with stakeholders

Heather Hoopes-Matthews • June 22, 2020

If you are a business serving the public you know this all too well: there is no playbook for navigating COVID-19.  You are making decisions daily, with new information and changing circumstances.  This is especially true for restaurants.

In six short weeks we’ve helped clients navigate a myriad of COVID related circumstances.  Let’s begin with the ‘news maker.’

You’ve had an employee test positive for COVID-19. In the South, infection rates are skyrocketing.  It’s likely just a matter of time before most businesses face this situation. The crucial first step is protecting the privacy of the infected employee. This is a legal requirement.  But you also must notify any other colleagues who have had close contact with that individual (think in terms of 10-12 minutes of close contact). Business leaders need to notify colleagues without revealing the identity of the infected employee.

Your employee reveals his/her positive test result on social media.  True situation.  There is nothing you can do about it.  Don’t stifle an employee’s right to share his/her personal information. But DO have a plan in place for how to communicate about COVID with your employees, guests, clients, and if needed, the media.  We’ve helped clients put in place a “COVID Response Team.”  Similar to a crisis response team (CRT), this nucleus of company decision makers and subject matter experts, such as a lawyer or crisis communication professional, will huddle up, assess the facts, make decisions and monitor the situation.

Messaging must be honest and transparent.  We can’t hide from COVID.  We must face it head-on.  Your number one priority should be the health and safety of your employees and guests.  Consider ahead of time what health and safety measures, such as deep cleaning, masks, etc., you have in place. That top health priority, and those safety measures are message points to share publicly.  DO NOT reveal any information which may identify your infected employee, including describing a job duty.

Be flexible, put safety first and press on.  It’s possible some of you reading this article will have to temporarily close your businesses in the future to deep clean after a series of positive employee tests.  Be proactive.  Weigh the short term loss of revenue for a temporary closure, against the long term reputational harm from appearing reckless.  Again, there is no playbook, you are assessing each situation, making decisions and monitoring for future modifications.

About the only thing we do know, is there is no telling how long this COVID storm will last. So plan now for how the virus may continue to impact your business.  Be safe, stay healthy, and offer grace and patience to those navigating alongside you.

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