CDC shifts to symptoms-based not test-based recommendations for employers

The CDC has shifted from a test-based approach to now recommending employers follow a symptoms-based approach for its workers.

As a general rule, the CDC cautions employers not to require employees to take coronavirus tests and should not require employees to provide a doctor’s note to validate the need for sick leave or the ability to return to work.

Employers should not require a COVID-19 test result or a healthcare provider’s note for employees who are sick to validate their illness, qualify for sick leave, or to return to work.

– Under the American’s with Disabilities Act, employers are permitted to require a doctor’s note from your employees to verify that they are healthy and able to return to work. However, as a practical matter, be aware that healthcare provider offices and medical facilities may be extremely busy and not able to provide such documentation in a timely manner. Most people with COVID-19 have mild illness and can recover at home without medical care and can follow CDC recommendations to determine when to discontinue home isolation and return to work.

– The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has established guidance regarding Pandemic Preparedness in the Workplace and the Americans with Disabilities Act. The guidance enables employers to take steps to protect workers consistent with CDC guidance, including requiring workers to stay home when necessary to address the direct threat of spreading COVID-19 to others.

Now, the CDC is now recommending a symptoms-based approach for determining when employees should self-isolate from the workplace. Specifically the CDC now recommends:

  • Following their first positive test, with no symptoms, isolation for 10 days
  • Following their first positive test with mild to moderate symptoms, isolation for the longer of 10 days or 24 hours after last fever or other symptom
  • Following their first positive test with severe symptoms, isolation for 20 days, or longer depending on healthcare provider input
  • Following an exposure with either no testing or a negative test, and with no symptoms, isolation for 14 days

The CDC recommends testing only in rare situations, and then two tests at least 24 hours apart.

The CDC cautions that test results may not be as reliable as one might hope. It now believes that a negative test result may be false, and a person may continue to test positive long after no longer being contagious. Therefore, the CDC currently believes that an employee who is able to return to work according to the foregoing criteria does not restart their isolation clock, as it were, simply because they test positive again later — again assuming they otherwise meet the foregoing criteria, including having had no symptoms, etc., for the required period from their first test.

The CDC has issued less restrictive requirements available for workers engaged in an essential industry, permitting such workers an exemption to return to work after exposure if they have no symptoms, wear a face covering, monitor symptoms and socially distance. The CDC has also issued different criteria for healthcare workers. Likewise, the CDC’s new guidelines acknowledge that different criteria may be imposed by a healthcare provider, and different guidelines may be appropriate for individuals with preexisting conditions.

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