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CDC: Asymptomatic Critical Infrastructure Workers Can Continue Working after Potential COVID-19 Exposure

When can employees who may have been exposed to COVID-19 return to work? Guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises that “critical infrastructure workers may be permitted to continue work following potential exposure to COVID-19, provided they remain asymptomatic and additional precautions are implemented to protect them and the community.” This guidance applies only to critical infrastructure workers (as defined in the Department of Homeland Security CISA guidance).

The CDC explains that potential exposure means “being a household contact or having close contact within 6 feet of an individual with confirmed or suspected COVID-19.”

Steps for Employees, Employers

The CDC guidance explains that critical infrastructure workers who have had exposure but remain asymptomatic (not showing signs of COVID-19) should take the following steps along with their employers:

  • Pre-Screen: Employers should measure the employee’s temperature and assess symptoms prior to them starting work. Ideally, temperature checks should happen before the individual enters the facility.

  • 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. Employers can issue facemasks or can approve employees’ supplied cloth face coverings in the event of shortages.

  • Social Distance: The employee should maintain 6 feet and practice social distancing as work duties permit in the workplace.

  • Disinfect and Clean work spaces: Clean and disinfect all areas such as offices, bathrooms, common areas, shared electronic equipment routinely.

Additional Recommendations for Employers

The CDC’s new guidance also provides additional recommendations for employers. For example, the CDC recommends that employees should not share headsets or other objects that are near an individual’s mouth or nose. Employers also should work with maintenance staff to increase air exchanges in the facility.

Employers should also consider ensuring social distancing by staggering breaks and making sure that employees do not congregate in the break room.

If an employee shows signs or symptoms of COVID-19 (such as fever, cough, or shortness of breath), that employee should stay home, or if the employee is at work when symptoms develop, the employee should go home immediately. If an employee has been at work with symptoms, employers should take steps to clean and disinfect the workplace, gather information about other individuals who were in contact with the ill employee, and take other steps to respond to potential exposure to COVID-19 in their facility.

Shift from Previous Guidance

This is a marked shift from the CDC’s existing guidance that recommends that asymptomatic individuals who have been exposed to someone with symptomatic COVID-19 (for example, by living in the same household, or being in close contact (less than six feet) for a prolonged period of time) should stay home for 14 days after the last exposure.

Other Considerations for Employers

Employers working through the new guidance and the workplace challenges presented by COVID-19 should keep the following in mind:

  • The CDC’s guidance relates only to critical infrastructure workers identified by the Department of Homeland Security CISA guidance. State and local orders may define essential business differently.

  • Healthcare employers should review the CDC’s guidance specific to healthcare.

  • Employers should be mindful of state and local orders regarding workers with potential exposure and guidelines on returning to work.

  • Employers conducting temperature screening should be thoughtful in establishing appropriate protocols to ensure proper employee safety and confidentiality.

  • When providing and requiring facemasks, employers should consider what type of face covering is needed and appropriate in their workplace.

Finally, the CDC’s new guidance permitting asymptomatic critical infrastructure workers to return to work following COVID-19 exposure are not mandatory. Employers should carefully consider the facts and realities relevant to their individual workplaces.

Jackson Lewis P.C. © 2022National Law Review, Volume X, Number 101

About this Author

Tressi Cordaro, Occupational safety health attorney, Jackson Lewis, enforcement agency lawyer, labor litigation legal counsel

Tressi L. Cordaro is a Principal in the Washington, D.C. Region office of Jackson Lewis P.C. She advises and represents employers on occupational safety and health matters before federal and state OSHA enforcement agencies.

Ms. Cordaro has advised employers faced with willful and serious citations as the result of catastrophic events and fatalities, including citations involving multi-million dollar penalties. Ms. Cordaro’s approach to representing an employer cited by OSHA is to seek an efficient resolution of contested...

Patricia Anderson Pryor, Class Action, Litigator
Principal and Office Litigation Manager

Patricia Anderson Pryor is a Shareholder in the Cincinnati, Ohio office of Jackson Lewis P.C. Ms. Pryor is an experienced litigator in both state and federal courts, representing and defending employers in nearly every form of employment litigation, including class actions.

She represents and advises employers in federal and state administrative proceedings, in all forms of dispute resolution, including mediation and arbitration, and in managing all aspects of the employment relationship. She has represented...

Katharine Weber, JacksonLewis Law Firm, Labor and Employment Attorney

Ms. Weber has experience litigating wrongful discharge cases; managing discrimination cases; negotiating collective bargaining agreements; representing employers before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and other federal, Ohio and Kentucky agencies; advising management on employment relations; drafting employee handbooks; and negotiating severance agreements.

Ms. Weber regularly advises clients on wage and hour issues. Over the past five years she has served as lead counsel on various wage and hour class and...

Tara Burke Employment lawyer Jackson Lewis
Of Counsel

Tara K. Burke is Of Counsel in the Cincinnati, Ohio, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. She works with employers to build positive and inclusive workplaces and reduce legal risk through policy development, training, and employment law counseling.  

Ms. Burke provides practical and legal advice to clients on employment law issues including harassment and discrimination prevention, diversity and inclusion, hiring and interviewing, internal investigations, disability accommodation and leave management, reductions in force, individual separations and employee relations...