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The COVID pandemic continues to evolve and, as such, brings protocol changes from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as well as from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). These changes can spark the need to review and potentially update related workplace policies and procedures. Such policies often speak to how long employees should stay home, when to wear masks, when employees need tests, and so on.

The following information can help guide potential changes to policies and procedures:

Vaccinations: You may now treat vaccinated and unvaccinated employees the same. The CDC, however, continues to recommend vaccination. You may still mandate that employees get the vaccine, but you would need to consider medical and religious accommodations. The mandate would also need to be job related and consistent with business necessity.

Stay home: Employees who have symptoms or test positive for COVID should stay home for at least five days. Employees may return to work after five days if they are without a fever for at least 24 hours (without medication) and all other symptoms have improved. If they must be around others, employees should mask for at least 10 days.

You may require a note from a qualified medical professional explaining that it is safe for the employee to return (i.e., no risk of transmission) and that the employee is able to perform the job duties.

Masks: Employees who have been exposed to someone with COVID should wear a mask for at least 10 days when around others indoors. They should test at least five days after exposure. If they have symptoms, they should test sooner.

Employees who have symptoms or test positive should use testing to determine when to no longer mask. If, after testing, they are without a fever for at least 24 hours and symptoms are improving, they may discontinue masking. Employees who test negative twice with at least 48 hours between tests can also discontinue masking. If either of the tests are positive, they must continue to mask and test every 48 hours.

Otherwise, employees should follow the “community level” protocols for the area.

Testing: Employees need not test to return to work. They should test when they have symptoms or have exposure to someone with COVID. Employees who test positive can continue to test positive for up to 90 days. Therefore, requiring a negative test before returning to work would not be the most effective measure of when employees no longer pose a risk.

Screening: Screening employees may be done only if doing so is job related and consistent with business necessity, such as for health care and settings where people gather.

Distancing: You no longer need to mandate social distancing, but it is still seen as one of many ways to mitigate infection spread.

Ventilation: Ventilation can still help prevent virus particles from accumulating indoors, so it remains another tool to help keep the workplace safe.

The World Health Organization indicates that COVID continues to be a pandemic. Many public health entities fear an increase in cases during the fall and winter, in part because of the high transmissibility of the current variants. Some scientists indicate that the pandemic won’t lessen to an endemic until 2024. Therefore, employers can still expect to deal with infected and exposed employees.

Key to remember: Employees may not need to miss as much work if they become infected. Employers will need to handle screening and testing for COVID more carefully, which could affect current related workplace policies.