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What to Do if Someone at Your LBM Operation Gets (or May Have) the Coronavirus

Updated: Mar 30, 2020

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The rapid rise in cases of Americans infected or possibly infected with the coronavirus made it inevitable that the lumber and building materials industry would be affected eventually. Now it's beginning to happen. In Massachusetts, Moynihan Lumber closed its retail hardware section after an employee contracted the coronavirus. At Ward (NY) Lumber, seven team members went into self-quarantine, all as a precautionary measure. There also was a case recently in which a Hampton Lumber timber mill in Oregon closed for a day's worth of cleaning after an employee was tested for coronavirus.

Ward Lumber owner Jay Ward had to act quickly when he got the news. To help you get a head start, here are some expert recommendations on how you should respond if one of your employees gets the virus.

Note that these ideas assume you already are following advice from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and other sources regarding how to keep coronavirus at bay. This document is for when COVID-19 you think it's on the doorstep or it has definitely arrived .

You Can't Ask Workers Directly if They Have Coronavirus

That's a violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). However, you can ask employees whether they fever (100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, the CDC says), sore throat, coughing, trouble breathing, or other flu-like symptoms that have persisted for at least 24 hours. And there's no crime in your watching for symptoms if the employee doesn't volunteer them. You also can ask staffers whether they have traveled to certain regions or been in contact with anyone who is infected.

Order Infected Workers to Go Home or Stay Home

If you get a confirmed or suspected candidate for COVID-19, tell that person to stay home and self-quarantine for at least 14 days. This holds even if the person calls merely to say they feel sick. Suggest a test. If the test results are back, ask the employee when they tested positive; that will help you and others get an estimate of when the illness was first contracted two weeks back, and how much shorter or longer the 14-day quarantine should be. Urge the employee to stay in contact with a health care provider.

Don't Be Surprised If Others Leave, Too

Given the small, close-knit nature of your typical independent lumberyard, it's logical to assume that if an employee doesn't show up for work, others will be concerned. Some may respond to the news of an infected worker (or even a suspected infection of a worker) by leaving work and self-quarantining. That could decimate your staff. That's one reason why plenty of communication and advice before you get to this point is essential.

Get a Geographic Handle on the Problem

If you're a multi-yard operation, ask the infected individual which locations they were in--getting as specific as particular offices that individual came in contact with during the two weeks prior to when coronavirus symptoms emerged. Sanitize those areas immediately, following CDC guidelines, which can be found here.

Who Else? When?

Ask as well for a list of staffers and non-staffers contacted during the previous two weeks. Contact those people and--without identifying the infected individual--advise them that someone they were in contact with has tested positive. Ask those people to stay at home for at least the next 14 days and self-quarantine. You can ask them to work remotely if they are capable of doing so. Just make sure that whatever policies you have on telework or remote work are applied fairly to all. If a non-exempt employee is involved and cannot work remotely, make sure they keep track of their hours. You also must decide whether to pay them during those 14 days or whether it will count against their personal time off.

Must You Close?

Aside from closing long enough to thoroughly sanitize your facility, none of the guidelines I reviewed said you were required to shut the business if an employee reports getting the coronavirus. But it's something you should consider depending on the circumstances. Of course, local authorities also are likely to have a say in this decision. As the CDC notes, "State and local authorities have primary jurisdiction for isolation and other public health orders within their respective jurisdictions."

It is becoming increasingly common among dealers to reduce hours of operation. Doing so will help concentrate remaining staff for peak-volume times as well as provide extra hours after closing to sanitize the equipment.

Do Your Paperwork

Unlike the common cold and flu, coronavirus cases aren't exempt from OSHA record-keeping requirements, so document what you've done. Also, remember that ADA prohibits you from identify to co-workers an employee who contracted the virus.

Keep Calm and Carry On

Your employees are counting on you to regard their health as a paramount concern and act accordingly. Do all you can (without overpromising) to assure them that you've got their back.

This information was drawn from the federal Centers for Disease Control, from Adams and Reese LLP, from the Society for Human Resource Managers, and from the Bernstein Shur law firm,

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