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Labor & Employment News Alert

Return to Work Guidelines for Virus-Exposed Critical Workers Who Lack Symptoms

April 9, 2020

By: Chad J. Sullivan and Lucero Tennis Kieffer

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) changed its guidance for critical infrastructure workers allowing those exposed to COVID-19 to return to work as long as they remain asymptomatic and additional precautions are implemented. Previous guidance was that exposed individuals should self-quarantine for 14 days. Below is a summary of the CDC’s new guidance:

Additional Precautions: The CDC’s guidance pertains only to critical workers who have been exposed to COVID-19 but remain asymptomatic. For exposed individuals, the guidelines advise the following: 

  • employers should take the employee’s temperature and assess any symptoms prior to work;
  • employees can then self-monitor their body temperature; 
  • clean and disinfect work spaces;
  • employees should wear a mask at all times while in the workplace for 14 days after last exposure; and
  • employees should practice social distancing in the workplace.

The CDC also advises individuals not to

  • share headsets or other items used near one’s face; 
  • congregate in the break room; and
  • share food or utensils. 


Additional Employer Responsibilities: The CDC also listed additional steps employers should implement for maintaining a safe work environment.

The CDC advises employers to:  

  • issue face masks or approve employee’s supplied cloth face coverings;
  • increase the cleaning and disinfecting of commonly touched surfaces; 
  • send the employee home immediately if he/she becomes sick during the day;
  • increase the air exchange in the building; and
  • test the use of face masks to ensure they don’t interfere with workflow.


Exposure Defined: The CDC defines a potential exposure as “being a household contact or having close contact within 6 feet of an individual with confirmed or suspected COVID-19. The time frame for having contact with an individual includes the period of time of 48 hours before the individual became symptomatic.”

Critical Workers: The CDC guidelines apply to Essential Critical Infrastructure Workers in the 16 defined sectors, including Communications, Chemical, Essential Manufacturing, Emergency Services, Energy, Financial, Healthcare, Food and Agriculture, Information Technology, Water, and Transportation. Further guidance on all 16 sectors and on identifying critical workers can be found on the DHS CISA website here. The full CDC guidelines can be found here.


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