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CDC COVID-19 Workplace Reopening Guidelines – High-Risk Employees

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued guidance to assist national and local COVID-19 mitigation efforts, including the reopening of businesses. The guidance document, CDC Activities and Initiatives Supporting the COVID-19 Response and the President’s Plan for Opening America Up Again, is a compendium that summarizes the CDC’s initiatives, activities and resources; proposes a general three-phase plan for reopening; and provides specific guidelines for high-risk workers, child care programs, schools and day camps, restaurants and bars, and mass transit administrators.

Under the general phases, the guidelines propose the use of six benchmarks, colloquially known as “gating criteria,” that individual states and communities should assess before progressing into each phase of reopening. The gating criteria include decreases in newly identified COVID-19 cases, decreases in emergency department and/or outpatient visits for influenza-like illnesses, and the availability of a robust testing program.

The guidance also proposes a three-step progressive process with a detailed list of recommended safety measures to assist businesses as they begin to reopen. For example, businesses are to intensify cleaning and disinfecting efforts and must ensure the availability of adequate supplies, including hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol and no-touch trash cans. Businesses also must consider installing physical barriers and closing communal spaces such as break rooms to promote social distancing. The guidance is not a one-size-fits-all proposal. Consistent with state and local requirements, businesses may choose the measures applicable to their operations.

As to employers with workers at high risk for severe illness from COVID-19, i.e., workers over age 65 and those with underlying medical conditions that may make them more susceptible to severe illness, the CDC recommends that employers protect high-risk employees with remote work accommodations or job duties involving minimal contact with others.

The progressive three steps toward reopening for employers with high-risk employees are:

  • Step 1: Scale up only if the business can ensure strict social distancing, proper cleaning and disinfecting requirements, and protection of workers and customers. It is recommended that high-risk workers shelter in place.

  • Step 2: Scale up only if the business can ensure moderate social distancing, proper cleaning and disinfecting requirements, and protection of workers and customers. It is recommended that high-risk workers shelter in place.

  • Step 3: Scale up only if the business can ensure limited social distancing, proper cleaning and disinfecting requirements, and protection of workers and customers.

The guidance recommends that high-risk employees should be encouraged to self-identify, and employers should avoid making unnecessary medical inquiries. Careful consideration should be given to reducing workers’ risk of exposure to COVID-19 consistent with relevant Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) regulations, as well as CDC and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) guidelines.

© 2020 Wilson ElserNational Law Review, Volume X, Number 151


About this Author

Gregg S. Kahn Employment & Labor Attorney Wilson Elser New Jersey

Gregg Kahn focuses his practice on labor and employment litigation, representing employers of all sizes. Gregg also devotes a substantial portion of his time to professional liability defense and real estate litigation. In his various roles over the course of his career, Gregg has counseled clients, handled complex litigation and coordinated litigation services on a nationwide basis.

Gregg has successfully defended numerous property managers and real estate brokers before HUD and the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights against charges of various forms of discrimination. Additionally...

Laura Stutz Labor & Employment Litigation Attorney Wilson Elser Law Firm

Laura Stutz practices in the area of employment law counseling and litigation. She represents management in the hospitality, retail, financial services and health care industries, including hospitals and hospital systems, nursing homes, clinical laboratories, acute care centers and retail pharmaceuticals. Laura’s practice involves counseling employers on employment laws and employee benefit issues arising under ERISA. She also litigates on behalf of management in state and federal courts and before administrative agencies over disputes involving claims of discrimination, harassment, wrongful discharge, retaliation, whistleblowing, wage-and-hour noncompliance, misappropriation of trade secrets, and enforcement of non-competition and non-solicitation agreements. 

Several of Laura’s cases have centered on hot-button issues such as claims involving the Equal Pay Act and other wage-and-hour laws, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Americans with Disabilities Act and its 2008 amendment, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the Family and Medical Leave Act, Section 1981 of the Civil Rights Act and state law fair employment statutes. Laura also handles employment-related tort, contract and whistleblower claims.  She has litigated employment cases in state and federal courts and taken appeals up to the Second Circuit and Third Circuit Courts of Appeals. Laura also has successfully defended employers in charges of discrimination filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, U.S. Department of Labor, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Civil Rights and various state agencies. 

After law school, Laura served as a judicial law clerk to the Honorable Richard Newman, Judge of the Appellate Division, Superior Court of New Jersey. Before her clerkship, while pursuing her law degree, Laura received the Raymond del Tufo, Jr. Constitutional Law Award as well as an award for her pro bono service.

Areas of Focus

Employment Litigation and Compliance
Laura partners with clients to achieve their goals in the areas of compliance and litigation avoidance. She provides counsel and advice on an array of employment issues from hires to terminations and everything in between, including disciplinary actions, compliance with state and federal wage-and-hour laws, prevention of workplace harassment and violence, leaves of absence, workplace accommodations, restructurings, and due diligence related to M&A and other business transactions, and workplace issues involving Stark, HIPAA and state privacy laws.  Laura also prepares workplace policies, contracts and other documents, and guides and conducts internal investigations.