August 1, 2022

Reminder to Continue to Update Policies and Practices to Reflect Latest COVID-19 Guidance

You might be sick of thinking about COVID-19 but people are still getting sick and employers must take appropriate action to keep the workplace safe. There has been a steady increase this summer in COVID-19-related lawsuits filed by employees across the U.S. In Maine, 6 lawsuits have been filed by employees who believe they were retaliated against for reporting concerns about COVID-19.  Be mindful that as public safety measures start to relax and public sentiment starts to shift, employers are not off the hook. To minimize safety and legal risks, employers should continue to follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”) guidance on quarantining and isolation.

Quarantine

Quarantine helps prevent COVID-19 transmission by separating people who have been in close contact with someone who has COVID-19 from other people.  CDC’s guidance on quarantining depends on whether the exposed individual is up-to-date on vaccinations or not:

Scenario Guidance
Exposed individual is not up-to date on COVID-19 Vaccinations

Quarantine for at least 5 days and get tested at least 5 days after last close contact with someone who has COVID-19.

Watch for symptoms, avoid travel, and wear a mask when around other people until 10 days after the close contact.

Isolate immediately if symptoms develop.

Exposed Individual is up-to-date on COVID-19 vaccinations

No quarantine unless symptoms develop.

Test 5 days after close contact with someone who has COVID-19. Wear a mask for 10 days when around other people.

Watch for symptoms for 10 days after close contact and isolate and test immediately if symptoms develop.

Exposed individual tested positive for COVID-19 within the past 90 days

No quarantine unless symptoms develop.

Watch for symptoms for 10 days following close contact with someone who has COVID-19. Wear a mask for 10 days around other people.

According to the CDC, you are "up to date" on COVID-19 vaccination if you have received all doses in the primary series and all recommended boosters.

Isolation

Isolation is used to separate people with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 from others. During isolation, individuals should stay home and away from other people.

Scenario Guidance
Individual has COVID-19 and is experiencing symptoms.

Isolation ends after 5 full days if individual is fever free for 24 hours and symptoms are improving on the 5th day.

Wear a mask for 10 days when around other people.

Individual has COVID-19 and is not experiencing symptoms.

Isolation ends 5 full days after positive test.

Wear a mask for 10 days when around other people.

Individual gets very sick from COVID-19 or has weakened immune system.

Isolate for at least 10 days and consult with doctor before ending isolation.

Wear a mask for 10 days when around other people.

Risks of Noncompliance

Complying with CDC guidance is the best way for employers to protect themselves from lawsuits if an employee contracts COVID-19 at work as a result of a close contact with a co-worker who should not have been in the workplace. In addition to workers compensation claims, negligence claims could also be pursued by customers, vendors, suppliers, or employee family members who contract COVID-19 as a result of a close contact with an employee who should not have been at work.

Further, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) looks to CDC guidance to evaluate what employers should be doing to keep the workplace safe and failure to conform policies and practices to CDC guidance could result in OSHA general duty clause citations.  OSHA conducted 25 COVID-19-related inspections in July and issued penalties following 20 of those inspections. Penalty amounts ranged from ~$1,700 to $29,000.

Best Practices

Employers should periodically review CDC guidance, check for updates, and modify COVID-19 policies and procedures accordingly.  The latest guidance is available here.

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