Recently we have been getting questions about when it might be safe to have employees who were COVID-19 positive or “presumed positive” safely return to work. Some of the questions arise because, despite being symptom free, individuals are testing positive for COVID-19 for many weeks. Fortunately, CDC, New York State Department of Health (NYSHDOH) and The American Society of Safety Professionals and other have weighed in, all with similar recommendations.
Because so many of our clients are NY based with will use the NYSDOH guidelines for returning to work after an employee is positive or "presumed positive". NYSDOH states that the following guidelines are not intended for healthcare or nursing home staff, as the healthcare industry has more specific guidelines they must follow.
- If an employee tests positive for COVID-19, regardless of whether the employee is symptomatic or asymptomatic, the employee may return to work upon completing at least 10 days of isolation from the onset of symptoms or 10 days of isolation after the first positive test if they remain asymptomatic.
- If an employee has had close or proximate contact with a person with COVID-19 for a prolonged period of time AND is experiencing COVID-19 related symptoms, the employee may return to work upon completing at least 10 days of isolation from the onset of symptoms.
The New York State Department of Health considers a close contact to be someone who was within 6 feet of an infected person for at least 10 minutes starting from 48 hours before illness onset until the time the person was isolated.
- If an employee has had close or proximate contact with a person with COVID-19 for a prolonged period of time AND is not experiencing COVID-19 related symptoms, the employee may return to work upon completing 14 days of self-quarantine.
- However, if such an employee is deemed essential and critical for the operation or safety of the workplace, upon a documented determination by their supervisor and a human resources (HR) representative in consultation with appropriate state and local health authorities, the exposed, asymptomatic employee may return to work so long as the employee adheres to the following practices prior to and during their work shift, which should be monitored and documented by the employer and employee.
- Regular monitoring: The employee must self-monitor for a temperature greater than or equal to 100.0 degrees Fahrenheit every 12 hours and symptoms consistent with COVID-19 under the supervision of their employer’s occupational health program.
- Wear a mask: The employee must wear a face mask at all times while in the workplace for 14 days after last exposure.
- Social distance: The employee must continue social distancing practices, including maintaining, at least, six feet of distance from others.
- Clean and disinfect workspaces: The employer must continue to regularly clean and disinfect all areas, such as offices, bathrooms, common areas, and shared electronic equipment.
- Maintain quarantine: The employee must continue to self-quarantine and self-monitor for temperature and symptoms when not at the workplace for 14 days after last exposure.
If an employee is symptomatic upon arrival at work or becomes sick with COVID-19 symptoms while at the workplace, absent close or proximate contact with a person with COVID-19, the employee must be separated and sent home immediately and may return to work upon completing at least 10 days of isolation from the onset of symptoms OR upon receipt of a negative COVID-19 test result.
Below are links to guidance on when isolation may end and employees may safety return to work.
ACEP – American College of Emergency Physicians
ASSP – American Society of Safety Professionals