By Kohei Fujimura
There is still no end in sight to the COVID-19 pandemic although the spread of infection is slowing. Companies are faced with an increasing risk because more of their employees are working at the office than in the spring. Based on interviews with experts, the Nikkei has summarized specific rules on how to deal with employees who test positive for the COVID-19.
(1) Fix seats to track employees’ activities
Companies should give top priority to swiftly cooperating with public health centers. The primary purpose of the cooperation is to identify employees who have come in close physical contact with coronavirus patients. It is better to prepare the office layout or the seating chart in advance for public health centers to appropriately determine [those who have come into close physical contact with COVID-19 patients].
A blind spot in the use of the office layout and the seating chart is hot desking, in which multiple employees can use the same workspace. Many companies are adopting the system, but a representative of the Japan Society for Occupational Health (Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo) says, “It is ideal to discontinue the system or restrict the place of work.” This is because the system makes it difficult to track the activities of COVID-19 patients and those who have come in close physical contact with them.
The second purpose of the cooperation is disinfection. A representative of a public health center in one of Tokyo’s 23 wards says, “Employees wiping down surfaces of objects is effective enough.” Companies can receive professional instructions on how to disinfect and what needs to be disinfected.
(2) Do not require a certificate to prove a negative COVID-19 test
Even for the sake of safety, companies should not ask their employees to submit a certificate to prove a negative COVID-19 test or a certificate of recovery before lifting the stay-at-home order.
The capacity to implement PCR testing is limited and the accuracy of the testing is said to be problematic. Experts unanimously say, “A certificate to prove a negative COVID-19 test is not effective.” The health ministry is also urging the public to refrain from asking medical institutions to issue certificates.”
(3) Acquire employees’ consent before disclosing their coronavirus-positive status
Unnecessarily disclosing employees’ infection status will put companies at risk of reputational damage or cause secondary damage to people infected with the virus. But failing to disclose infections could also lead to a delay in taking anti-infection measures and to the spread of false information. Companies are required to carefully make a judgement by comparing the two risks.
Either way, the contraction of an infectious disease falls into personal information, so companies need to acquire employees’ consent before disclosing their coronavirus-positive status. (Abridged)