Hey, boss, my coworker just cleared her throat twice.  Can you send her home?

As a manager in a pre-COVID office environment, what would you have done?  Maybe nothing.  Overreaction by a manager could have been seen as invading someone’s personal space and intruding upon someone’s private health concerns.

However, during a pandemic, it is best practice for management to require an employee to leave immediately if he/she exhibits symptoms of illness.  The employee must stay out until 10 days have passed since symptoms began and self-certify upon re-entering the office as per CDC guidelines

Now, that’s a lot for a manager to enforce because an employee cleared her throat a few times.  When COVID entered our world, common sense didn’t need to exit.  Maybe she swallowed a mint wrong.  Those Altoids can be pretty harsh…

Give yourself a reality check.  Is this the first time you’ve heard that employee clear her throat?  Yes?  Continue to monitor.  Don’t be an alarmist. 

If it’s not the first time you’ve heard the throat-clearing, is the employee exhibiting any other symptoms, like sneezing, coughing, or lethargy?  Symptom monitoring (including daily temperature checks) during a pandemic is critical, and early detection of any symptoms is helpful in maintaining overall health of your workforce and continuing your business’s operations.  So, talk to the employee.  Do it in private.  Be kind.  And, be respectful. 

I’ve heard you clear your throat a few times.  Do you think you’re coming down with something? 

Oh, your throat hurts?  Well, let’s be careful. 

You have plenty of work you can do from home, so why don’t you work remotely for the rest of the day?

(Or, you have plenty of PTO, so why not use it now?)

Check with me tomorrow before heading back to the office.  We just need to be extra cautious.

Feel better.  I’m sure we’ll see you back in the office soon.  Call me if you need anything.

Can you hear the tone?  It’s gentle.  It’s kind.  It’s respectful.  And, the conversation is held in private.  But, the best result is still accomplished.  An employee potentially exhibiting symptoms is leaving the office immediately.  Now, wash your hands and continue with your day.  Common sense + kindness = good employee relations.

If you have any questions regarding HOA legal issues, please contact any of our attorneys at 303.432.9999.  If you have questions regarding the presence or absence of common sense in the workplace, contact Missy Hirst, Legal Administrator at [email protected].

3 responses to “COVID and Good Employee Relations
  1. Oh my goodness! So now, every time someone clears his throat, coughs or sneezes, we are to presume he has Covid? Whatever happened to good old-fashioned flu, a cold or pneumonia? Why now does everyone have to bypass, as you say, common sense and go straight to covid? Be observant and cautious without being disrespectful, again as you say. How about asking the employee to put on a mask, to start with. I’m sure he’d understand that without taking offense, and keep an eye on the symptoms (if indeed there are any) of illness.

    1. I couldn’t agree more, Joe. Common sense should prevail without being an alarmist and jumping to a conclusion, COVID or otherwise. So, if someone is exhibiting symptoms, like sneezing, coughing, or lethargy which is not an isolated incident for that employee, have a heightened awareness. Maybe you are correct, and they have the good old-fashioned flu, a cold, or pneumonia. I encourage the same protocol be followed in the workplace, as these are also rather contagious conditions. So, it may be in the best interest of the overall health of your workforce and the continuity of your business operations to speak with the symptomatic employee sooner rather than later, in private, with respect, and with an empathetic manner. Best wishes for a happy and healthy new year, Joe!

  2. Nice article. Thank you for pointing out that we don’t need to be harsh or hasty to make a point and deal with a situation. I really appreciate the tone of your suggestions.

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