What should we do if an employee says their symptoms are not related to COVID-19?
This is a tough situation. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advise employers to send employees home when they have COVID-19 symptoms (fever, cough, shortness of breath). Employees should not return until they are symptom-free for at least 24 hours without symptom-altering medication (e.g., Tylenol, cough suppressants). The CDC is asking employers not to request a doctor’s note because of the current strain on our healthcare system due to the pandemic.
If an employee claims that their symptoms are attributed to another cause (e.g., allergies, asthma), the most risk-averse response would be to send employees home when they have COVID-19 symptoms, with pay. We understand that providing paid leave for all employees is not feasible for every business, but paid leave will incentivize employees, to be honest and help you keep your workplace safe.
The CDC has a risk assessment tool available here, which might be helpful. We would also note that, based on news reports, some people have tested positive for COVID-19 without any known exposure.