Local attorney weighs in on COVID-19 exposure at the workplace, mask legality

Posted at 7:27 AM, Jul 01, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-01 07:42:44-04

TAMPA, Fla. — In regard to COVID-19 exposure in the workplace, legally employers have to notify employees who have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 or may have been exposed to the virus.

The CDC defines close contact as working regularly within six-feet of one another.

“When employers disclose that information to employees they need to make sure they do so in a way that complies with the ADA and doesn't expose the identity of the person who is infected,” said Amanda Newlon, Associate Attorney for Shumaker, Loop and Kendrick.

Newlon says if an employer is administering the COVID-19 test, depending on the circumstance, they would usually pay for that testing.

RELATED: Federal lawmakers react to loophole that lets private insurers push back on paying for COVID-19 tests

When it comes to third party testing, it’s not exactly clear who pays.

“Under the Federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act, health insurance plans are supposed to be covering COVID-19 testing but if it’s not done for a diagnostic purpose and an employment purpose, it's not clear that the coverage is mandated. Right now it's up in the air but insurance is supposed to cover it,” said Newlon.

In regard to test results, an employer could ask an employee to sign a consent form or say they can’t come back to work until they’ve seen the employee’s test results.

Newlon says legally an employer can make it a requirement for continued employment.

When it comes to wearing masks, some people have started questioning the legality of the local mask mandates.

However, Newlon says at this point it’s in your best interest to follow the ordinances and wear a mask.

Right now the ordinances do give businesses the power to deny entrance if someone is not wearing a mask.

“The Tampa, St. Pete ordinances and Pasco County are civil violations so you could face fines. So you could face potential penalties if you don't meet the exemptions for not wearing a mask,” said Newlon.

One exemption would be if someone has a disability that prevents them from wearing a mask.

Newlon says legally, businesses can’t typically ask people about a particular characteristic like a disability.

“If you do have a disability and you're not able to wear a mask and if someone asks you, you can answer the question. Really the question should be limited to: Do you have a disability that prevents you from wearing a mask?” explained Newlon.

If a business wanted to ask questions beyond that, Newlon advises they seek legal counsel first.