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Identifying & Managing High-Risk Employees During COVID-19

Your team is undoubtedly your practice’s most valuable resource. That, of course, includes those employees who are considered high-risk for COVID-19. The fact that many may not feel safe working during this time is understandable, but also presents a few unique challenges. So, what can you do to protect both these team members and your practice, as we continue to navigate our way through this pandemic?

Who Is High Risk?

Let’s start with defining “high risk.” Generally, an at-risk individual will be:

  • Immunocompromised (They have a genetic condition, they are or have been undergoing cancer treatment, they are HIV positive, etc.)
  • Pregnant
  • 65 or older
  • Extremely fearful about working because of the pandemic

With or Without a Doctor’s Note: Managing Case by Case

Usually, you’ll discover an employee’s high-risk status in one of three ways.  The way in which they report their status will influence your actions should they request time off.

1) Doctor’s Note

An employee may present a note from their doctor stating that because of a medical condition, that employee must be granted:

  • A leave of absence
  • Reduced hours
  • An adjustment to job requirements

This is the gold standard when it comes to a documented request due to high-risk status. Treat this instance as you would have treated any other “disability” in pre-pandemic times.

Compliance Check: This is a case of protected leave so, in order to protect your employee (and your practice’s liability), you:

  • May NOT terminate the employee
  • Must follow the doctor’s orders to the letter

2) Verbal Disclosure

Perhaps your employee simply tells you about a condition that makes them high risk. However, because they can’t, or decide not to, visit their doctor (due to office closure, safety, lack of concern), they do not have an actual doctor’s order for any sort of leave of absence. 

Your best course of action is to take them at their word and tread lightly. Be as kind, understanding, and as flexible as possible so that you reduce any risk of actually jeopardizing their health.

Compliance Check: Additionally, understand that terminating their job, because of their self-reported condition, could make your practice liable.

3) Fear

Understandably, most of your team is under a great deal of stress at this time. There may be some who do not have a medical condition, per se, that puts them at greater risk, but will request a leave of absence or time off for other reasons.  Such as:

  • Extreme concern for their safety
  • Lack of childcare
  • Caring for older parents

In this case, you have to ask yourself how much do you value this employee, and then act accordingly. 

If you greatly value the employee, you may choose to be understanding and flexible, working together to arrive at a solution. For example:

  • Educate them about all the additional safety measures you are implementing to mitigate risk (PPE, health screening and protocol, physical barriers, etc.)
  • Offer a temporary leave of absence
  • Adjust their hours to reduce their workload and help with their work/life balance

If the employee still does not want to come to work, check in with them periodically to let them know the current status of your practice and to learn how their situation or feelings may have changed.

If this is not one of your most valued team members, or (because of reduced production) their services are really not needed, you may terminate them. But first, please contact HR for Health or another HR professional. Because this is a rather gray area, we want to make sure you take the correct steps in documenting and validating their termination.

Managing your high-risk employees and providing them the time off that they need does not have to be overwhelming. With some careful consideration, documentation, and a little help from HR for Health, you can make sure that even your most vulnerable employees, and your practice, stay safe and protected.

And remember, we’re here to help!

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COVID-19 Resources for Employers

If you are a current HR for Health client and have additional questions, please reach out to our team by calling 877-779-4747. Please keep in mind that due to an influx in questions related to the COVID-19 outbreak, our response time may be slower than usual, but we will get back to you as soon as we can! 

If you are not a current HR for Health client and have additional questions, please schedule an HR consultation with us by booking time here or calling us at 877-779-4747, option 1. 

We provide services to help you handle compliance with state laws, hiring, and all your other HR needs.  If you have questions about managing your employees during the COVID-19 pandemic or any other questions, please reach out to us and SCHEDULE A CALL, or call: 877.779.4747, or email: compliance@hrforhealth.com

HR for Health is one of the nation’s leading Human Resources Management Systems (HRMS) used by small to mid-sized practices. HR for Health has provided the following complimentary articles to ensure you have a game plan when addressing complex HR matters.



Quick note: This is not to be taken as legal or HR advice. Since employment laws change over time and can vary by location and industry, consult a lawyer or HR expert for specific guidance. Learn about HR for Health's HR services