Despite all of our hopes and prayers for an end to the pandemic, we still have employees who are exposed to or testing positive for COVID-19, and we still need to figure out how to deal with those issues. The CDC issued new guidance on the length of time a non-healthcare employee must isolate or quarantine and that is what we all need to follow. There are different guidelines for healthcare workers.
So, what should you be asking your employees who call to say they have had a positive COVID-19 test?
Employee Tests Positive — 5 Day Isolation
Your employee calls and reports a positive COVID-19 test. Per the guidance, the employee must isolate for five days, whether or not the employee is vaccinated, boosted, or unvaccinated.
When does the five-day period begin? That depends on whether the employee has symptoms.
- With symptoms: Day 1 of isolation is the first full day of symptoms. Let’s say Employee Anne started feeling bad on Sunday night and wakes up feeling worse on Monday morning. Monday is Day 1 of isolation. So, when Anne calls in sick, you should ask her when she started having symptoms.
- With no symptoms: Day 1 of isolation is the day after the positive test. Let’s say Employee Will has a positive test but is asymptomatic. You should ask Will when he tested positive.
After Five Days Can Anne and Will Return to Work?
As with all things COVID-19, that depends.
After Day 5, you should ask Will whether he developed any symptoms. If he didn’t, he can come back to work wearing a mask for five days.
Anne could be a different story. After Day 5 you should ask her if her symptoms have resolved and whether she is running a fever. If she has no symptoms or fever, she can return to work wearing a mask for five days. If she has a fever, she needs to stay home until she no longer has one — and then she can come back to work with a mask for five days.
Keep in mind that some of the five days of masking may fall on days that Will and Anne are not scheduled to work. It is five days — not five workdays.
What About Exposures?
The guidance about exposures depends on your employee’s vaccination status. An employee who is exposed but recently vaccinated (in the last six months for Pfizer or Moderna or the last two months for J&J) or boosted should wear a mask for 10 days. The CDC recommends getting tested at Day 5.
If the exposed employee is not vaccinated or recently vaccinated, then you should direct him or her to stay home for five days and encourage a test at Day 5. After Day 5, assuming no symptoms, the employee can return to work and wear a mask for five days.
Although the federal COVID-19 pay is no longer in place, some states still have paid leave in place that could cover these absences. Check with your lawyer to be sure you are on solid ground.