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Employee where art thou? CDC change may lead to more employee absences

The CDC changed its guidance on what is considered “close contact” to an individual exposed to the virus, which will likely result in more employees subject to quarantine.

Posted October 29, 2020

On October 21, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC — is anyone not familiar with this acronym?) changed how it views what constitutes “close contact” with someone infected with COVID-19. Instead of involving a continuous 15-minute period of being within six feet of an infected individual, those 15 minutes are a cumulative total, as long as the encounters took place within 24 hours.

Picture, if you will, Emma Employee and Cody Coworker passing each other in the hallway, at the coffee station, or briefly discussing work anywhere (even outside of work), and they spend only four minutes at each encounter. But they have five such encounters during the day. If Emma tests positive, Cody has had a close contact. This is true even if they were both wearing a mask or other facial covering.

Why does this matter?

The CDC rules for quarantine apply if someone has been in close contact with someone who tested positive. This means that Cody would need to quarantine for 14 days because he has been exposed to someone who tested positive – such as Emma.

These encounters aren’t restricted to the workplace. Employees have lives and if Cody had a close contact outside of work, he would still need to quarantine. Parents, siblings, children, friends, neighbors, all can involve such contacts.

Remember the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA)? Employers subject to this law (those with fewer than 500 employees) may see an increase in requests for emergency paid sick leave, since being subject to a quarantine order is one of the qualifying reasons for this paid sick leave. Currently, the FFCRA is effective only until December 31, 2020. If, however, Congress puts together a COVID-19 aid package, it could include an extension.

Simply getting the work done with fewer employees is challenging enough, particularly if you have employees who have specialized skills. With many areas seeing a surge in cases, many employers may see a resulting surge in absences.

With this in mind, you may want to revise any applicable policy to help ensure that employees stay apart six feet at all times and enforce it. Strong communication of such a change can also help get the message across.

This article was written by Darlene Clabault of J. J. Keller & Associates, Inc.

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