Recent Changes to CDC Guidance May Allow Employers to Safely Return Employees Exposed to COVID-19 to Work in Fewer Than 14 Days

by Zachary T. Zeid

Employers should be aware that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently revised its quarantine guidelines for people who may have been exposed to COVID-19 through “close contact.” A person has been in “close contact” if he or she has been within 6 feet of someone who is positive for a total of 15 minutes or more in a 24-hour period. The new guidelines are a welcomed resource for many employers who are facing considerable challenges in responding to the increasing frequency of employee exposure events both in and outside of the workplace. While the CDC has generally recommended a 14-day quarantine since the beginning of the pandemic, the new guidance now suggests that this period may be shortened when the applicable criteria are met.

Under the new framework, if no symptoms are experienced from the “close contact,” a person may discontinue quarantine 10 days after the exposure without testing,  or 7 days after the exposure if a negative test result is obtained at least five days after the exposure. Although testing may be performed after 5 days, the CDC notes that this is in anticipation of testing delays, and that quarantine may not be discontinued earlier than after day 7. In practical terms, this means that an employee who did not develop symptoms may generally be permitted to return to work on the 8th or 11th day after an exposure or presumed exposure, depending upon the availability of testing.

Since this change is a marked departure from earlier recommendations, employers should take this opportunity to review and update their COVID-19 workplace policies and procedures to ensure they reflect the most up-to-date guidance and best practices. Informal or outdated policies create significant risk for employers, and organizations without clear, written protocols are subject to potential liability including employee claims and governmental fines and penalties.  

No matter the size of your business, we recommend you implement the following COVID-19 policies and maintain documentation of compliance:

  •  Safe Workplace Policy
  • Out of State Travel Policy
  • Family First Coronavirus Response Act (“FCRA”) Leave Request Form
  • Remote Work Agreement(s) (temporary and/or permanent as applicable)
  • Self-Certification to Return to Work Post Quarantine/Isolation
  • COVID-19 Exposure Response Guidelines (for management)
  • COVID-19 Testing Policy (if applicable)

Pullman & Comley has policy templates and other useful resources available to aid employers in navigating and complying with the confusing web of laws, regulations, and guidance related to COVID-19. Please contact our Labor and Employment Law attorneys for assistance.

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