BUILDING SUCCESSFUL BUSINESSES

Updated Guidance on Responding to COVID-19 Outbreaks in the Workplace

| Aug 3, 2020 | COVID |

On July 1, 2020, our firm posted information and guidance for employers in responding to COVID-19 outbreaks in the workplace.  As individuals testing positive for COVID-19 in the workplace has become more prevalent, and as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”) and the State of California have learned more about COVID-19, both have updated their guidance to employers as to the measures to take to protect employees and maintain a safe working environment during the pandemic.  The updated guidance, which combines the information from the CDC (updated on July 28, 2020) and the State of California (updated on July 24, 2020), is contained in the following chart:

Employee Status and Situation

Employer Response and Minimum Criteria for Return to Work

Symptomatic Positive

Employees with symptoms who are laboratory confirmed to
have COVID-19

  1. At least 1 day (24 hours) has passed since last fever, defined as resolution of fever without the use of fever-reducing medications; and
  2. Improvement in symptoms (e.g., cough, shortness of breath); and,
  3. At least 10 days have passed since symptoms first appeared.

Asymptomatic Positive

Employees who never had symptoms and are laboratory confirmed to have COVID-19

A minimum of 10 days has passed since the date of their first positive COVID-19 test. If they develop symptoms, then the criteria for “Symptomatic Positive” cases apply.

Symptomatic Negative

Employees who had symptoms of COVID-19, but test result returned negative

Use the same criteria for return to work as “Symptomatic Positive” cases

Asymptomatic Negative

Employees who never had symptoms, but were tested due to close contact with a laboratory-confirmed case-patient and were negative

Employees should quarantine at home for 14 days after the last known close contact with the case patient. Symptoms can develop even after testing negative within 14 days after exposure.

**Note the information below on whether your local health department may consider allowing earlier return to work for a worker in a critical infrastructure industry.

Symptomatic Untested

Employees who had symptoms of COVID-19 but were not tested

Employee should contact his or her healthcare provider. Testing is highly recommended. If the employee is not tested for whatever reason, use the same criteria for return to work as “Symptomatic Positive” cases.


Asymptomatic Untested But Close Contact with Laboratory Confirmed COVID-19 Patient

Employees who had close contact to a laboratory confirmed case patient at work, home, or in the community and do not have symptoms.

OR

Employees who refuse or are unable to be tested after close contact with a laboratory confirmed case, despite recommendation for testing from local health department or healthcare provider, and do not have symptoms.

Workers should be quarantined at home for 14 days after the last known close contact with the case patient. Testing is highly recommended.

Workers who develop symptoms of COVID-19 while in quarantine should contact their healthcare provider. Even if they are not tested, the same criteria for return to work should be used as “Symptomatic Positive” cases.

**Note the information below on whether your local health department may consider allowing earlier return to work for a worker in a critical infrastructure industry.


What should I do if an employee is suspected or confirmed to have COVID-19?

In most cases, an employer does not need to shut down its facility, but it should close off any areas used for prolonged periods of time by the sick person and wait 24 hours before cleaning and disinfecting to minimize potential for other employees being exposed to respiratory droplets. If waiting 24 hours is not feasible, wait as long as possible.

Follow the CDC cleaning and disinfection recommendations:

  • Clean dirty surfaces with soap and water before disinfecting them.
  • To disinfect surfaces, use products that meet EPA criteria for use against SARS-Cov-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and are appropriate for the surface.
  • Be sure to follow the instructions on the product labels to ensure safe and effective use of the product.
  • Continue to identify and regularly clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces throughout the workplace, such as doorknobs, equipment, and handrails.
  • You may need to wear additional personal protective equipment (PPE) depending on the setting and disinfectant product you are using.
  • Minimize sharing of other equipment between workers; for equipment that must be shared, conduct frequent cleaning between worker use.

In addition to cleaning and disinfecting, employers should determine which employees may have been exposed to the virus and need to take additional precautions:

  • If an employee is confirmed to have COVID-19, employers should inform fellow employees of their possible exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace but remember to maintain confidentiality of the employee who tested positive for COVID-19. Remember that a “potential exposure” or “close contact” means being a household contact or having close contact within 6 feet, for 15 minutes or more, of an individual with confirmed or suspected COVID-19. The timeframe for having contact with an individual includes the period of time of 48 hours before the individual became symptomatic.
  • Employees who test positive for COVID-19 (using a viral test, not an antibody test) should be excluded from work and the employer should follow the guidelines for a “positive” test as to when that employee can safely return to work. Employers should also provide education to employees on what to do if they are sick.
  • Employers may need to work with local health department officials to determine which employees may have had close contact with the employee with COVID-19 and who may need to take additional precautions, including exclusion from work and remaining at home.


What should I do if I find out several days later, after an employee worked, that they were diagnosed with COVID-19?

If it has been less than 7 days since the sick employee used the facility, clean and disinfect all areas used by the sick employee following the CDC cleaning and disinfection recommendations (above).

If it has been 7 days or more since the sick employee used the facility, additional cleaning and disinfection is not necessary. Continue routinely cleaning and disinfecting all high-touch surfaces in the facility.

Other employees may have been exposed to the virus if they were in “close contact” (defined above) of the sick employee.

  • If an employee is confirmed to have COVID-19, employers should inform fellow employees of their possible exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace but maintain confidentiality of the employee who tested positive for COVID-19.
  • Those who have symptoms should self-isolate and follow the steps for a “symptomatic” employee.
  • In most workplaces, those potentially exposed but with no symptoms should remain at home or in a comparable setting and practice social distancing for 14 days.
  • Employees not considered exposed should self-monitor for symptoms. If they develop symptoms, they should notify their supervisor and stay home.

**Also note the information below on whether your local health department may consider allowing earlier return to work for a worker in a critical infrastructure industry.

Regarding the following two groups of employees: (1) asymptomatic employees who tested negative, and (2) employees who were in “close contact” to confirmed COVID-19 cases, where a 14-day quarantine would compromise essential operations, the local health department may determine that some employees in these two groups may return to work sooner than 14 days by considering certain criteria specific to the workplace and the employee:

  • The employee is able to wear a surgical mask throughout the workday, except while eating, and comply with all infection prevention procedures. A cloth face covering may also be used in the event of mask shortage.
  • The facility has implemented all best practice infection prevention procedures, as determined by the local health department.
  • Pre-screening to assess employee temperature and symptoms prior to starting work has been implemented, ideally before entering the facility.
  • The employee is able to self-monitor for temperature and symptoms at home and work.
  • The employee is able to maintain a minimum of six feet of distance from other employees in the workplace.
  • Physical barriers are in place between fixed employee work locations to supplement distancing.
  • Cleaning and disinfection of all areas and shared equipment can be performed routinely in the workplace.

Employers must be aware that testing reflects an employee’s status at a single point in time only.  If a workplace outbreak is ongoing, testing may be needed at repeated intervals to capture all positive cases.  Employers should review the state of California, their local health department, and Cal/OSHA guidance for complying with the legal requirements to protect workers and reporting employee cases, including COVID-19 inpatient hospitalizations and deaths among employees, as well as the CDC website, at least weekly, for additional information on preventing outbreaks and maintaining a safe workplace during this pandemic.