When should employees return to work after COVID-19? How to manage isolation timelines for non-hospitalized employees who have symptoms of COVID-19.

Reducing the risk of COVID-19 when reopening the workplace is the number one priority for employers and it’s hard to stay current with the latest recommendations.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recently revised their isolation timelines for employees with COVID-19 who are not being treated in a hospital and managing their symptoms at home. In such cases, it’s now recommended that the decision to discontinue isolation be made using symptom-based criteria rather than the test-based strategy previously advised.

When Should Employees Return to Work After COVID-19?

Communicating with employees who have been diagnosed with COVID-19, following guidance from their healthcare providers and staying informed of public health updates is the best way to keep your employees safe when they return to work.

CDC Isolation Timeline for Non-Hospitalized Employees with COVID-19

Information from the CDC’s Discontinuation of Isolation for Persons with COVID-19 Not in Healthcare Settings:

Accumulating evidence supports ending isolation and precautions for persons with COVID-19 using a symptom-based strategy. Specifically, researchers have reported that people with mild to moderate COVID-19 remain infectious no longer than 10 days after their symptoms began, and those with more severe illness or those who are severely immunocompromised remain infectious no longer than 20 days after their symptoms began. 

Therefore, CDC has updated the recommendations for discontinuing home isolation as follows:

Persons with COVID-19 who have symptoms and were directed to care for themselves at home may discontinue isolation under the following conditions:

  • At least 10 days* have passed since symptom onset and
  • At least 24 hours have passed since resolution of fever without the use of fever-reducing medications and
  • Other symptoms have improved.

*A limited number of persons with severe illness may produce replication-competent virus beyond 10 days, that may warrant extending duration of isolation for up to 20 days after symptom onset. Consider consultation with infection control experts.

Persons infected with SARS-CoV-2 who never develop COVID-19 symptoms may discontinue isolation and other precautions 10 days after the date of their first positive RT-PCR test for SARS-CoV-2 RNA.

Are COVID-19 Liability Waivers Legal?

Fisher Phillips, a labor and employment law firm, notes that there has been an exponential rise in the number of COVID-19 workplace lawsuits with filings for discrimination, work-from-home or paid leave claims, retaliation, unsafe working conditions and lack of personal protective equipment.

In order to avoid COVID-19 workplace lawsuits, Fisher Phillips recommends employers:

  • Train managers to understand their responsibilities and employee rights.
  • Educate managers and HR personnel on the new leave law requirements.
  • Develop and communicate a comprehensive safety plan as employees return to the workplace.
  • Anticipate the various wage and hour responsibilities that might come into play as the pandemic unfolds.

Many employers are now asking employees to sign a liability waiver agreeing not to sue the business if they catch COVID-19 before allowing them to return to work. Employment lawyers agree that these waivers are unfair and largely unenforceable, but the Senate is working on a bill that would provide broad liability protection for employers against coronavirus claims. 

Employers are determined to push their businesses through the coronavirus pandemic and employees are equally eager to get back to work, but making a safe return is what matters most. This is an unprecedented time and how employers react will have a significant impact on the reputation of their business as well as their efforts to retain and recruit employees. 

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