It’s just after the holiday season, when the kids came home from college, the Griswolds took vacation, and Santa Claus came to town. But for many, the most wonderful time of the year will have become a cause for concern. With COVID-19 cases on the rise and family gatherings inevitable, you may be worried the virus will spread in your workplace faster than holiday cheer. Don’t start 2021 on the wrong foot. Instead, plan now to keep your workplace safe by revisiting your coronavirus policies.
Review Updated CDC Guidelines
As the medical community learns more about COVID-19, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) continues to update its guidance. For example, the CDC recently expanded its definition of “close contact” to include more brief encounters. Before, “close contact” was defined as being within six feet of a confirmed positive coronavirus case for 15 consecutive minutes or more. Now, it’s being defined as being within six feet of a confirmed positive case for a total of 15 minutes.
The CDC also shortened the recommended length of quarantine time after exposure. Until recently, the agency advised individuals in close contact with a confirmed COVID-19 case to quarantine for 14 days. Though 14 days is still the gold standard, the agency now says individuals who don’t develop symptoms may end their quarantine after just 10 days, or even seven days if they test negative.
In addition, be sure to review the latest guidelines issued by your state and local health departments. If there are discrepancies between state, local, and federal COVID-19 guidelines, talk with your attorney about how best to minimize your risk of liability. Make sure your workplace is following all applicable coronavirus safety guidelines, and update your policies accordingly.
Revisit Your Return-To-Work Policy
Now that your employees are heading back to work from the holidays, it’s a good idea to revisit your COVID-19 return-to-work policy and remind them about their safety obligations. At a minimum, you should advise them to:
- Do their part to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 by frequent handwashing, social distancing, wearing a mask in public spaces, and staying home when they feel sick;
- Self-check for COVID-19 symptoms, including temperature taking, before reporting to work each day, and report any coronavirus-like symptoms to their supervisor; and
- Follow all applicable quarantine rules, especially those regarding COVID-19 symptoms, exposures, and travel restrictions.
Also, you should decide as soon as possible how to handle out-of-state or international travel. Travel restrictions vary from state to state, and most international destinations are still subject to mandatory quarantines. Accordingly, some employers may wish to limit employees’ out-of-state travel; others may want to adopt a strict quarantine policy after travel. If you want to adopt a travel policy, do so with the advice of counsel, and enforce the rules consistently.
When possible, telework is a good option for employees after the holiday break, whether they have traveled or not. Giving them the flexibility to work from home for a few weeks after the holidays could minimize the risk of spread in the workplace and help your company get off to a healthy start in the new year.
It is not too late to protect your employees from an increased holiday spread of COVID-19. Make sure to revisit your coronavirus safety protocols and return-to-work policies. Consult with counsel, update your policies as needed, and tell employees about their obligations. Provide telework and other flexible options when possible.
Sarah Stula is an employment and litigation attorney with the law firm Foulston Siefkin LLP in Kansas City, Kansas. She enjoys researching free-speech issues and discussing politics while taking long walks with her goldendoodle. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.