August 26, 2020
By: Shelly R. Pagac
As COVID-19 continues to spread globally and throughout Pennsylvania, most employers will be faced with the question of how to respond when an employee tests positive, or has exposure to the coronavirus, and will need to determine when those employees can safely return to work. In part, it depends on whether the employee has simply tested positive, or if the employee tests positive and has symptoms.
Where an employee has tested positive for COVID-19, but has no symptoms, the employee can return to work 10 days after the first positive test.
Where an employee has tested positive for COVID-19 and has symptoms, the employee may safely return to work at least 10 days after the onset of symptoms, at least 24 hours have passed since resolution of fever without the use of fever-reducing medications, and all other symptoms have improved. All three criteria must be met before the employee can safely return to work.
For employees with severe illness, 20 days of isolation after symptom onset may be warranted.
Once a company has ensured that an employee with a confirmed or suspected COVID-19 case will not be reporting to the business’ physical worksite, Pennsylvania employers must take the following steps:
I. Secure and Decontaminate Affected Areas
- Close off areas visited by the person who is a probable or confirmed case of COVID-19.
- Wait at least 24 hours, or as long as practical, before cleaning and disinfecting the affected area. If more than seven days have passed since affected person visited the business or facility, enhanced cleaning and disinfection is not necessary.
- Open outside doors and windows and use ventilation fans to increase air circulation.
- Clean and disinfect all shared areas such as offices, bathrooms, break rooms, shared electronic equipment (printers, touch screens, keyboards, remote controls) used by the affected person.
II. Identify the Scope of The Risk in the Workplace
- Identify employees and third parties who were in close contact (within six feet for ten minutes or more) with a person with a probable or confirmed case of COVID-19 from the period 48 hours before symptom onset to the time at which the affected person is isolated.
- Promptly notify employees and third parties who were in close contact of any known exposure to COVID-19 at the business premises, consistent with applicable confidentiality laws. COVID-19 diagnosis is considered confidential medical information under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and employers are prohibited from disclosing the identity of the affected employee. Please note that employers are generally not obligated to disclose positive cases of COVID-19 to third parties such as customers/clients, vendors, or contractors but an employer may choose to do, consistent with applicable confidentiality laws.
- Businesses must implement temperature screening for employees who had close contact to someone who is a probable or confirmed COVID-19 case and temperature checks should be conducted for at least 14 days after an exposure.
III. Asymptomatic Employees
For employees working in the Critical Infrastructure Industry, if any employee was in close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 and remains asymptomatic, the CDC advises:
- Pre-Screen: Employers should measure the employee’s temperature (ideally before entering the worksite) and assess symptoms prior to their starting work. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, antibody tests that detect whether an employee has COVID-19 antibodies violate the ADA and are prohibited. This regulation does not prevent employers from testing employees to determine if they currently have COVID-19.
- Regular Monitoring: As long as the employee doesn’t have a temperature or symptoms, they should self-monitor under the supervision of their employer’s occupational health program.
- Wear a Mask: The employee should wear a face mask at all times while in the workplace for 14 days after last exposure.
- Social Distance: The employee should maintain 6 feet and practice social distancing as work duties permit in the workplace.
- For more information, see https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/critical-workers/implementing-safety-practices.html
This guidance is current as of August 26, 2020, but information continues to rapidly change. As the regulatory landscape continues to evolve, we recommend contacting us should your business have any health and safety related issues to ensure compliance with the most current guidance.