The big news of the week for employers did not come out of the Department of Labor or Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Instead, it came out of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). After much discussion and speculation in the public health community, CDC announced that asymptomatic fully vaccinated individuals need not quarantine after a subsequent COVID-19 exposure within three months of full vaccination. The CDC guidance is available here.
We all hope the time after full vaccination where an individual need not quarantine following a COVID-19 exposure will extend further if the protection from the vaccine is shown to last longer than three months.
The ramifications of this decision for employers cannot be overstated. Had CDC come down the other way, there was literally no end in sight to the social distancing measures employers have been diligently following in the workplace since the pandemic started. Part of the reason employers follow social distancing is to minimize spread. But another big reason for social distancing within workplaces is to avoid quarantining large segments of employees if one of them contracts COVID. That is because most people within six feet of a confirmed COVID positive individual for 15 minutes or more are subject to a government-mandated quarantine. CDC’s new guidance means that a vaccinated employee can continue to work even if there is a close contact exposure. Given the CDC guidance, the risk of having to quarantine large groups of employees for an exposure will fall as more of the workforce is vaccinated.
Employers should update their own quarantine policies to align with CDC’s updated guidance. And employers should institute robust programs educating employees about the COVID-19 vaccine and encouraging employees to get the vaccine when it is available to increase the number of employees vaccinated. Doing so not only protects your workforce, it also, given the new CDC guidance, minimizes the disruption a confirmed COVID positive case will have on your day-to-day operations.