One inevitable challenge facing employers during the Coronavirus pandemic is how to address the return to work of employees who have been suffered through the illness and survived.
In that regard, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention changed the standards it recommends for allowing employees to return to work.
The CDC guidance on when a person with COVID-19 may discontinue home isolation creates a more flexible standard that is hoped will assist employers and employees in dealing with absences during the pandemic.
Previously, the CDC’s recommendation was that people who test positive for the Coronavirus or people experiencing COVID-19 like symptoms should self-quarantine for 14 days. The updated guidelines now allow people to end home isolation and return to work well before the previous 14-day period ended.
According to the CDC, these new recommendations will prevent most — but may not prevent all — instances of secondary spread, point out attorneys Nicholas Hulse and Travis W. Vance of the law firm of Fisher Phillips.
“What remains the same is that you should immediately separate employees who are exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms when they arrive at work or who become sick during the day from other employees, customers and visitors,” they say.
“What’s updated is that you can bring an employee back to work from home isolation when they satisfy one of the two options presented by the CDC,” Hulse and Vance add.
According to the CDC’s first option, employees who were not tested for the Coronavirus but who exhibited symptoms and were directed to care for themselves at home may discontinue home isolation if:
- At least three days (72 hours) have passed since recovery, which is defined as resolution of fever without the use of fever-reducing medications.
- The improvement of respiratory symptoms, such as coughing and shortness of breath.
- At least seven days have passed since symptoms first appeared.
- If the employees are tested to determine if they are still contagious, they also can leave home after these three things have happened:
- The employees no longer have a fever (without the use medicine that reduces fevers).
- Other symptoms have improved (for example, when the cough or shortness of breath have improved).
- The employee has received two negative tests in a row, 24 hours apart, when the patient’s doctor follows certain CDC guidelines.
“In all cases, follow the guidance of your healthcare provider and local health department,” the CDC stresses. “The decision to stop home isolation should be made in consultation with your healthcare provider and state and local health departments. Local decisions depend on local circumstances.”
The CDC’s previous recommendations for a test- based strategy remain applicable, Hulse and Vance emphasize.
“However, a test-based strategy is contingent on the availability of ample testing supplies and laboratory capacity as well as convenient access to testing,” they say. “For jurisdictions that choose to use a test- based strategy, the recommended protocol has been simplified so that only one swab is needed at every sampling.”
In situations where an employee tests positive for the Coronavirus, the lawyers recommend the employer inform other employees that they were possibly exposed to the illness at work.
At the same time, it is important to keep in mind that employers are obligated to maintain the confidentiality of the identity of the employee who tested positive under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Those employees who worked closely with the infected employee should self-monitor for symptoms and follow the CDC guidelines, as necessary.
Individuals with laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 who have not had any symptoms may discontinue home isolation when at least seven days have passed since the date of their first positive COVID- 19 diagnostic test and if they have shown no evidence of subsequent illness.
The decision to discontinue home isolation should be made along these guidelines, while also considering the context of local circumstances, Hulse and Vance advise.
OSHA Issues Delivery Guide
OSHA issued a guidance to employers in the package delivery industry about how to reduce the risk of their workers being exposed to COVID-19.
The agency says the advice is applicable to all firms whose workers deliver items to customers.
Specifically, OSHA recommends that employers providing delivery services:
- Encourage workers to stay home if they are sick.
- Establish flexible work hours (e.g., staggered shifts) where feasible.
- Practice sensible social distancing and maintain six feet between co-workers where possible.
- Minimize interaction between drivers and customers by leaving deliveries at loading docks, doorsteps, or other locations that do not require person-to-person exposures.
- Encourage respiratory etiquette, including covering coughs and sneezes.
- Promote personal hygiene. If soap and water for handwashing is not available, provide alcohol-based hand rubs containing at least 60% alcohol. Provide tissues and disinfectants and disposable towels to clean work surfaces, including vehicle interiors.
- Allow workers to wear masks over their nose and mouth to prevent spreading the virus.
- Discourage workers from using other workers’ tools and equipment.
- Use Environmental Protection Agency-approved cleaning chemicals from List N or that have label claims against the coronavirus.
- Encourage workers to report any safety and health concerns.
The OSHA alert follows the agency’s earlier guidance on how employers can prepare their workplaces for COVID-19 (AA, 4-15-20, P. 4).
OSHA Easing Report Burden
OSHA has simplified how employers determine whether employees diagnosed with COVID-19 contracted the disease at work.
Employers who are not in health care industry or emergency response organizations are largely excused from having to investigate and determine whether a COVID-19 case is work-related.
The enforcement guidance also applies as well to states that have their own OSHA Plans.
Unless the determination of work-relatedness is presented to employers by employees or health care providers, they are not obligated to investigate whether a COVID-19 case is work-related.
Generally speaking, for a COVID-19 case to be recordable on an OSHA 300 Log, the following recordkeeping analysis must be made:
The case is a confirmed or diagnosed case of COVID-19, as defined by the CDC, and is work- related as defined under OSHA regulations. As a practical matter, this means that to be recordable, a work-related case must have resulted in medical treatment, days away from work or death.
OSHA seems to hold that an employer does not have to conduct an investigation to determine if the case is work-related. Information supporting work- relatedness would have to be presented to the employer by employees or perhaps by a medical care provider or the Public Health Department.
The only COVID-19 cases that would be determined to be work-related involve situations where there are a known, active COVID-19 case in the work environment (or in the agency’s example, “a number” of such cases), another employee working in close proximity (less than six feet) to the known, active case, and no other contact with a known COVID-19 case away from work.
If the employee is admitted to a hospital within 24 hours of exposure, or dies within 30 days of exposure, the hospital admission must be reported within 24 hours, and within eight hours of a fatality.