Quick COVID-19 Refresher for Employers

Quick COVID-19 Refresher for Employers

Nicknamed after the Greek goddess of strife and discord, Eris — the latest dominant coronavirus subvariant infecting people across the country — may cause HR departments to panic as they remember the existence of various federal, state and local COVID-19 protocols.

Although the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health’s (Cal/OSHA) two-year, COVID-19 Non-Emergency Standards went into effect on February 3, 2023, which streamlined some of the previous employer requirements, employers still must follow all California orders and guidance (for example, from the California Department of Public Health (CDPH)), as well as all local health departments with jurisdiction over the workplace.

In short, there’s a lot to keep track of, but here’s a few reminders for employers.

What Do I Do When an Employee Tests Positive for COVID-19?

Regardless of vaccination status, previous infection or lack of symptoms, all employees who test positive for COVID-19 must be excluded from the workplace for:

  • At least five days after the start of symptom; or
  • After the date of the first positive test if they have no symptoms.

When Can Previously Excluded Employees Come Back to Work?

Employees may return to work after the fifth day if their symptoms are not present or are mild and resolving AND the employee is fever-free for 24 hours without using fever-reducing medication. Employees with a fever cannot return to work until 24 hours after the fever resolves. If their non-fever symptoms aren’t improving, they cannot return to work until their symptoms resolve or after the 10th day from when they tested positive. (And remember, a COVID-19 case who returns to work must wear a face covering until 10 days have passed since the date of symptoms or first positive test.)

What Do I Do When Employees Have “Close Contact” with COVID-19?

Employers don’t have to exclude employees who have close contacts with positive COVID-19 cases, but employers still have to maintain effective policies to prevent COVID-19 transmission by individuals who had close contacts and review current CDPH close contact guidance.

Using the current CDPH definition, close contact means the following:

  • In indoor spaces of 400,000 or fewer cubic feet per floor (such as homes, clinic waiting rooms, airplanes, etc.), close contact is defined as sharing the same indoor airspace for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period (for example, three individual five-minute exposures for a total of 15 minutes) during an infected person’s infectious period, regardless of the use of face coverings.
  • In large indoor spaces greater than 400,000 cubic feet per floor (such as open-floor-plan offices, warehouses, large retail stores, manufacturing or food processing facilities), close contact is defined as being within 6 feet of the infected person for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period during the infected person’s infectious period, regardless of the use of face coverings.

Offices, suites, rooms, waiting areas, break or eating areas, bathrooms, or other spaces separated by floor-to-ceiling walls shall be considered distinct indoor spaces.

Close contacts should wear a well-fitting mask around others for a total of 10 days, especially in indoor settings and when near those at higher risk for severe COVID-19 disease. They should also test within three to five days of their last exposure, and if symptoms start to develop, they should test and stay home.

If the CDPH changes the definition of “close contact,” the most recent CDPH definition would apply.

Additional California guidance is available on the CDPH’s COVID-19 and the Workplace website, Cal/OSHA’s COVID-19 Guidance and Resources website and California’s COVID-19 Safety in the Workplace website.

Katie Culliton, Editor, CalChamber

CalChamber members can read more in HRCalifornia’s School’s Back, COVID’s Rising … Here’s a Quick Refresher for Employers, which includes HRCalifornia’s COVID-19 Resources, such as COVID-19 and Workplace InjuriesWorkers’ Compensation Written Notice of COVID-19 ExposureInjury and Illness Prevention Program (IIPP),  COVID Q&As and more. Not a member? Learn how to power your business with a CalChamber membership.

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