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Rishard Khan

[email protected]

The discharge criteria for COVID-19 patients has shifted away from a diagnostic test (PCR) to a clinical discharge based on symptoms almost one month ago. However, several reports reaching Guardian Media indicate that some employers are refusing to allow recovered COVID-19 patients return to work unless a negative PCR test result is produced- something the Ministry of Health would not be providing. Some employees said they were even asked to pay some $1,600 for a private test out-of-pocket.

But the Employers’ Consultative Association (ECA) said this cost should be borne by the employers as is typically done for other assessments of an employee’s fitness to return to work.

In an email response to questions sent by Guardian Media, the association said despite not receiving any such reports from its membership, it understood why some employers may be cautious in allowing the employees to return to work.

“If there is even a remote chance of one employee infecting others in the workplace, this is not a risk that employers are willing to take, especially when you consider the spillover effect on other employees, their families, and the business,” the association said.

However, it referenced the protocol for other return-to-work and fit-to-work cases, such as when a worker would have suffered a heart attack, stroke or injury.

“Employers may want to take extra precaution before allowing such employees back to work, by requiring a medical examination or test. In such cases, the employer will normally cover this expense – whether the examination is conducted by an in-house company doctor or an external medical practitioner. This practice is consistent with Section 37:1 of the OSH Act,” it said.

The association noted there are other options which can be considered for a recently discharged COVID19 patient employee such as remote work arrangements, appropriate use of leave eligibilities and heightened distancing and safety/hygiene measures in the workplace.

“In other illness situations, where employees are certified medically fit but asked to delay the return to work by their Company as an added precaution, they would normally receive normal salary from their employers for the extended period required to stay at home, pending an updated medical assessment and fitness certificate. In such employer directed cases, the employer would normally bear the associated costs for the assessments,” the association noted.

“We, therefore, encourage employers to treat each case on its own merit and ensure that their approach to each return to work situation is consistent, fair and free of discrimination, in keeping with the recent advice published by the Equal Opportunity Commission (EOC).”

The association said it does not have any concerns with the new discharge criteria as outlined by the Chief Medical Officer.

“The ECA appreciates that the criteria are not unique to Trinidad and Tobago and are consistent with advice emanating from organisations such as the World Health Organisation (WHO) and Centers for Disease Control (CDC) as well as practices undertaken by Health Authorities in other countries,” it said.