COVID-19 Workplace Exposure Guidelines for Employers

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Workplace COVID-19 Exposure Guidelines for Employers

The following questions, answers, and resources can help you establish protocols to follow when an employee has symptoms of COVID-19, tests positive for COVID-19 and when an employee has been exposed to someone confirmed to have COVID-19.

What Steps Can I Take to Reduce Risk in the Workplace?

Follow local, state, and federal requirements and considerations for employers. (See “More Employer Resources” section below.)

All staff must wear facial coverings when they enter an indoor facility, any enclosed open space, and outdoors when the employee is unable to maintain 6 feet minimum of space with all other people at all times. If an employee does not have a mask, one should be provided for them. (See Order of the Health Officer C19-07: Facial Coverings.)

All staff must maintain 6 feet minimum of space at all times in all work areas to comply with social distancing protocol. (See Appendix A of the Sonoma County Health Order C19-15.)

Employers are encouraged to use the free SoCo COVID-19 Employee Check Mobile App to check and document that all employees complete a COVID-19 symptom screening daily. The App automatically reports data to the County, excluding personally identifiable information.

What Should I Do If An Employee Tests Positive?

First Steps

Contact Public Health Disease Control at (707) 565-4566 immediately. Ask to speak with a Lead Public Health Nurse to report the exposure and to provide information about contact with other employees/clients/customers.

Inform the individual’s manager or supervisor, your human resources manager (if applicable), and other business/company executive-level leaders about a possible workplace exposure immediately.

Maintain confidentiality. Do not disclose the ill person’s identity to anyone at the workplace unless the ill person freely gives you permission. To the extent possible, use only readily available information to identify who had close contact with the case. Do not disclose the identity of the case in your effort to identify close contacts. (For more information about employer/employee confidentiality see DFEH Employment Information on COVID-19.)

What’s Next? 

Your employee must isolate from others and not be at work. (Isolation means staying in their home, in a room away from others, wearing a mask when in common areas.) These employees can only return to work after these three criteria are met:

  • 10 days since the symptoms first appeared, AND 
  •  24 hours with no fever (above 100.0F) without the use of fever-reducing medications, AND
  • COVID-19 symptoms (cough, shortness of breath, chills, etc.) have improved.

Was Your Staff Exposed to a Confirmed Positive Case?

Staff exposed to a confirmed case should quarantine for 14 days from the date they last had contact with the confirmed case. (Quarantine means that they must stay home for 14 days, except to go to medical appointments or the hospital, and they must wear a mask when they leave their home.) They should then follow this protocol:

  • Let their healthcare provider know when their exposure was.
  • If they don’t have a health care provider, call Public Health at (707) 565-4566
  • If they develop symptoms, they should get tested immediately.
  • If no symptoms develop, get tested 10 days after exposure.

How Do You Determine Who Has Been Exposed?

Exposure occurs:

  • When the employee is less than 6 feet away from the COVID-19 positive person for 15 minutes or longer.
  • 48 hours or less prior to the COVID-19 positive person having symptoms.

What if an employee has symptoms of COVID-19?

When an employee becomes ill with COVID-19 type symptoms while at work, they should be sent home immediately. They should consult with their health care provider to determine if they need to be tested. If the healthcare provider determines they are likely to have COVID-19 or they have a positive test result, then they must isolate and not return to work until these three criteria are met:

  • 10 days since the symptoms first appeared, AND
  •  24 hours with no fever (above 100.0F) without the use of fever-reducing medications, AND
  • COVID-19 symptoms (cough, shortness of breath, chills, etc.) have improved.

It is important to note that if an employee has met these 3 criteria, they do not have to be retested to return to work. The CDC does not recommend using a test-based strategy for returning to work. Ten days after the symptoms and fever resolve, some people with confirmed COVID-19 will continue to have positive viral tests for several weeks, even though they are otherwise healthy and no longer contagious This is because you can still have non-contagious dead viruses and viral debris in your system. A symptom-based screening strategy is sufficient to identify when an individual may return to work.

If a healthcare provider determines they are not likely to have COVID-19, the employee can return to work when:

  • The symptoms improve and they feel better.
  • 24 hours with no fever (above 100.0F) without the use of fever-reducing medications.

If your employee continues to have no symptoms, they can return to work 10 days after the date of the positive viral test for COVID-19.

Immediate Aftermath

Determine which workplace areas need to be temporarily closed and arrange for enhanced cleaning and disinfection. Keep such areas closed for at least 24 hours. Make sure the cleaning service adheres to the CDC’s Interim Recommendations for U.S. Community Facilities with Suspected/Confirmed Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19).

Be prepared to provide information to employees to support them while quarantined, such as sick/medical leave resources and what to do when they are ready to return to work.

Consult with the manager of your disability insurance program regarding potential workers’ compensation, unemployment, and processes.

What To Expect Next

Public Health Disease Control will interview the employee who tested positive and everyone exposed to the person. They will also interview supervisors, managers, and other leaders in the employer’s organization. In addition, Public Health Disease Control will contact the employee’s healthcare provider or hospital to determine medical components and gather information in a thoughtful and systematic way to make the best recommendations regarding who was exposed and the level of risk.

More Employer Resources

Information on COVID-19 from the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing

Information about COVID-19, the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act, and other Equal Employment Opportunity (EEOS) laws from the EEOS Opportunity Commission

A toolkit for resuming business from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Guidance on preparing workplaces for COVID-19 from the U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration

Interim guidance for businesses and employers responding to COVID-19 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Order of the Health Officer C19-14: Stay Well Sonoma County from the County of Sonoma