CDC Issues Guidance on Potential COVID-19 Exposure in Critical Infrastructure
On April 8, 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”) set forth safety guidelines [cdc.gov] for critical infrastructure employers to follow in the event that workers have potentially been exposed to COVID-19. The guidance addresses how employers should handle asymptomatic, potentially-exposed workers reporting to work, without risking the health and safety of the rest of the critical workforce. The CDC guidance seeks to balance the need to staff critical functions with the need to reduce the risk of co-worker exposure.
The CDC guidelines apply to all 16 critical infrastructure sectors, as identified by the Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) [cisa.gov]. In addition to the obvious ones (i.e. first responders, 911 operators, nuclear plant workers, etc.), critical workers include janitorial and custodial staff and many employees in the financial services, transportation and logistics, and communications sectors [cisa.gov]. Although this guidance is directed to employers designated within critical infrastructure, any employer may adopt the CDC safety recommendations.
The guidelines advise that critical workers may be permitted to report to work following a potential exposure, as long as they remain asymptomatic and additional safety precautions are implemented. The CDC defines a potential exposure as being a household contact, or having contact within 6 feet of an individual who has a confirmed or suspected COVID-19 diagnosis, including during the 48 hours before the individual was diagnosed or became symptomatic.
Practices for Asymptomatic Employees with Potential Exposure
The CDC states that critical workers who are asymptomatic but have potentially been exposed to the virus may report to the workplace; however, their employers should adhere to the following practices:
- Pre-Work Temperature Screen: The employer should measure the worker’s temperature and assess symptoms either before the worker enters the facility or starts working.
- Regular Symptom Monitoring: The worker should self-monitor under the supervision of the employer’s occupational health program.
- Masking: The worker should wear a face mask during the 14 days after his or her most recent exposure.
- Social Distance: The worker should maintain 6 feet and practice social distancing, as duties permit (this includes employee break time).
- Disinfect and Clean: The employer should frequently disinfect and clean all areas, including bathrooms, common areas, and shared electronic equipment. Employees should not share headsets or other items that may touch the mouth or nose [cdc.gov].
- Send Sick Workers Home: The employer should immediately send home any worker who becomes sick. The employer should also clean and disinfect all surfaces in the worker’s workspace, and gather information about any persons whom the worker had close contact during the 48 hours before he or she became symptomatic.
- Posting: The employer may post CDC flyers listing the “do’s and don’ts” of critical personnel working after potential COVID-19 exposure [cdc.gov].
Tips for All Employers
Although these guidelines are designed to support the continuity of functions critical to public health, safety, and economic security during the COVID-19 pandemic, employers who do not operate within critical infrastructure can also follow this CDC guidance in having asymptomatic employees continue reporting to work.
Employers have been and continue to be able to measure employee temperatures. They may also ask about employee symptoms, COVID-19 exposure risk factors, and even require daily symptom-free, fit-to-work attestations. Employers can continue to take an even more protective approach than that described by the CDC guidance and require asymptomatic, potentially-exposed employees to self-quarantine until they meet the CDC’s standard to end self-isolation.
However, both employers of critical workers and non-critical workers covered by the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (“FFCRA”) should keep in mind that those unable to work due to potential COVID-19 exposure may be eligible for paid sick leave under the FFCRA (with exceptions for employees of health care providers and emergency responders) [federalregister.gov] [quarles.com].
Finally, employers should continue to monitor and follow additional guidance from relevant state or local health departments.
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If you have any questions related to the provisions of the CDC’s Critical Workers Guidance, please contact your local Quarles & Brady attorney or: