As we approach the winter months, a further uptick in COVID-19 cases is expected. Take the time now to prepare your response plan for when an employee is diagnosed with or exposed to COVID-19. Guidance from the Center for Disease Control (“CDC”) and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (“MA DPH”) provides three different courses of action depending on whether the employee exhibited COVID-19-like symptoms, tested positive for COVID-19, or was exposed to an individual with COVID-19.

When Is An Employee Able To Return To Work

An employee who exhibits COVID-19-like symptoms should get tested and should not return to work until:

  • At least ten days have passed since the symptoms first appeared;
  • At least 24 hours have passed since the fever resolved without the use of fever-reducing medications; and
  • There has been improvement in respiratory symptoms (e.g., cough, shortness of breath). Loss of taste and smell may persist for weeks or months after recovery and need not delay the end of isolation.

An employee who tests positive for COVID-19 but has no symptoms should not return to work until:

  • Ten days have passed since being tested; and
  • Has been asymptomatic since being tested. An employee who develops symptoms after testing positive should follow the CDC’s current guidance for the return to work for employees who exhibited COVID-19-like symptoms.

An employee who was advised to self-quarantine by a health care provider or local Board of Health and has no symptoms, according to the CDC’s current guidance, must quarantine for 14 days after exposure.

However, the MA DPH guidance provides the following additional option in lieu of the 14-day quarantine:

  • Quarantine for at least ten days, provided the employee meets all of the following:
  • Has not had, and does not have, any symptoms;
  • Is tested on day eight of the quarantine period or later using a molecular diagnostic test (e.g., polymerase chain reaction (PCR)) to detect the presence of the virus;
  • Receives a negative test result; and
  • Is monitored for symptoms for the full 14 days. If an employee develops symptoms, the employee should contact the employee’s health care provider and be retested.

Co-Worker Safety

When an employee reports COVID-19-like symptoms, tests positive for COVID-19, or was exposed to an individual with COVID-19 or instructed to self-quarantine, an assessment regarding potential exposure to other employees should be undertaken. At the core of this assessment is who the employee had close contact with.

Under guidance from the CDC and the MA DPH, close contact means:

  • Being within six feet for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period of someone who tested positive for COVID-19 in the 48 hours before their test was taken or anytime in the ten days after the test; or
  • Being within six feet of a COVID-19-positive person for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period, while the person was symptomatic or within the 48 hours before symptom onset.

Guidance from both the CDC and the MA DPH states that an employee who was exposed to COVID-19 and later develops symptoms during the 14-day period should follow the criteria for employees who exhibited COVID-19-like symptoms.

Employer Responsibility Once On Notice Of Employee Diagnosed With COVID-19

If an employee is diagnosed with COVID-19 and has been at work in the past seven days, the employee’s workspace should be cleaned and disinfected. If feasible, wait 24 hours before cleaning and disinfecting the employee’s workspace to minimize the potential for other employees being
exposed to COVID-19.

If an employee is diagnosed with COVID-19, OSHA requires that the employer conduct an assessment on whether the employee’s COVID-19 illness was work-related.

Once on notice of an employee’s positive COVID-19 test result, an employer must notify the local Board of Health in the locality where the workplace is located and assist the local Board of Health in order to advise other employees who may have come in contact with the employee who tested positive for COVID-19 and, as a result, who may need to isolate and self-quarantine.

The CDC’s and MA DPH’s guidance should be routinely checked for updated information.