Important: The status of the COVID-19 crisis constantly changes. The information in this resource is updated frequently.

FAQs – Contact Tracing Investigations

From Navigating COVID-19

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Should employers conduct contact-tracing investigations in person or remotely?

In general, contact-tracing investigations should occur remotely. Once an employee has tested positive for COVID-19, he or she should be sent home immediately to quarantine. We advise interviewing the infected employee remotely to avoid any possibility of exposure to the interviewer or other employees. Once the infected employee has been interviewed and the interviewer has detailed information related to other employees with whom he or she had close contact, those workers should be interviewed remotely as well, as employers should send potentially exposed employees home to quarantine.

The goal of contact tracing is to stop the spread of the virus. That means, to the extent possible, anyone who has been exposed should be sent home immediately. If the employer is investigating where the worker with COVID-19 might have contracted the illness, it might be possible to interview employees who weren't exposed in person.

Where should employers store information related to contact-tracing investigations?

Information about the illness collected from the employee infected with COVID-19 may be stored in his or her medical file –– not in the worker's personnel file. The complete body of information pertaining to and collected from the contact-tracing investigation should be stored in a separate investigations file. That file should not be made part of any employees' personnel or medical files. The investigation is confidential, and handled in the same manner documents from any internal investigation are handled.

May I require my employees to download a contact-tracing app as a condition of continued employment?

Probably. Private employers probably could require employees to utilize a contact-tracing app, provided that the mandatory program does not violate employee privacy rights –– that is, the program is administered in a manner that is no more intrusive than necessary to meet the legitimate business needs of the business.

The proper notifications must be in place prior to use. The permissibility of a contact-tracing app might depend on the industry and business. For example, a professional services firm in which the vast majority of employees can (or do) work remotely and therefore present no immediate danger to anyone else in the workplace might have difficulty showing that the app is a business necessity. In contrast, it might be deemed necessary for business at a manufacturing facility that requires in-person presence and where the nature of the work prevents social distancing within the plant. The app might not be effective if these employees don't keep their smartphones on their person during the workday.

Employers must ensure that the app is used in a nondiscriminatory manner and that any medical or other personal information the employer obtains is stored confidentially and separate from employees’ personnel files. Employers would have to cover the costs associated with the apps or the acquisition of smartphones to run them for employees who do not already own one. Employers also might have to reimburse employees who use their own cellphone for this purpose.

Employers should seek written consent from employees to obtain, use and, when required, disclose to public health officials employee health information and geolocation data, as well as installation of the software for contact assessment and tracing.

As an employer, may I have access to the centralized information of the contact-tracing app to know which employees have a positive indication of COVID-19?

Employers must have consent from employees to receive from an app controller any medical information about them. Access will depend on app design, and many of the model apps are being built to decentralize identifying information so that it will not be available to the employer or to other third parties. Limited third-party access to this electronically generated infection exposure information is a design feature to overcome privacy concerns.

The apps designed to limit employer access to information would alert the employee that he or she might have been exposed, and the employer would need to a policy requiring employees to disclose the alert of close contact with someone who is infected, as indicated by the app. In these cases, use of the app is only as effective as the employees’ compliance with the employer policy requiring disclosure of exposure.

As an employer, how may I enforce my requirement that employees install, monitor and update a contact-tracing app?

Employers may install apps on employer-issued devices, and once installed, the devices might be able to monitor adherence to the employer’s policy. But employers might have difficulty forcing their employees to install apps on their personal devices, and must, at least, partially reimburse employees for the use of their personal device for the employers’ purposes.

As with most workplace policies, adaption and adherence probably will depend on cooperation and employee “buy-in.” So contact tracing and the use of apps starts with effective communication to employees about the need for and effectiveness of contact tracing, including detailed information about will be collected, where it will be maintained and who will have access to it.

As an employer, may I require an employee to self-quarantine or get tested based on an app rating of COVID-19 exposure?

Yes, but this assumes that: (1) the app is configured to report the employee’s diagnosis to the employer; and (2) the diagnosis has been promptly and accurately reported to the app, either by the employee (as in most apps under development) or by a provider or laboratory (although this depends on the providers’/labs’ willingness to cooperate in a voluntary app-reporting system). Note that employers might be required to permit an employee to work from home; provide sick time, including expanded sick leave payments pursuant to the Families First Coronavirus Relief Act; and/or cover the costs of COVID-19 testing for at-risk employees.

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