CDC Issues Interim Guidance on Safe Practices for Essential Employees

In continuing with our guidance during the COVID-19 outbreak, the Wiley Law Office wanted to fill you in on new guidance from the Center for Disease Control on safe practices for essential workers who have had exposure COVID-19.  It’s important to keep checking this website and many of the other federal and state websites in order to stay apprised of any changes that occur – as they happen frequently.

First off, the CDC classifies the following employees as “Critical Infrastructure Workers”:

  • Federal, state, & local law enforcement
  • 911 call center employees
  • Fusion Center employees
  • Hazardous material responders from government and the private sector
  • Janitorial staff and other custodial staff
  • Workers – including contracted vendors – in:
    • food and agriculture,
    • critical manufacturing,
    • informational technology,
    • transportation,
    • energy, and
    • government facilities

In what appears to be a response to criticism from industry stakeholders (or perhaps a cry for help from employers of critical workers), the CDC issued new guidance permitting critical workers to continue work following potential exposure to COVID-19, rather than self-quarantining for 14 days as previously recommended.  For those employees, the CDC recommends the following steps:

  1. Pre-screen employees before allowing them into work. The CDC states that employers should check employee temperatures and assess symptoms before the employee is allowed to work.
  2. Monitor symptoms regularly. Employees should continue to be monitored for symptoms under the supervision of the employer.
  3. Force employees to wear a mask in the workplace.
  4. Practice social distancing.
  5. Disinfect and clean all areas of the employee’s workplace frequently.

The CDC recommends if employees become sick they should be sent home, and employers should keep lists of employees who have had contact with or been exposed to the ill employee two days prior to the arrival of symptoms up until the time the employee left the workplace.  Many of these practices should already be in practice for many employers.

Employers need to keep a couple things in mind with this guidance – it is for essential workers who must be at the workplace in order to perform their essential work.  This is not permission for you to bring additional, non-critical employees into the workplace.

Finally, the CDC guidance does not give you authority to bypass any state laws or restrictions on which employees can be in the workplace or what constitutes an acceptable employment practice.  Both the CDC and EEOC have provided guidance on acceptable employment practices in regard to containing the spread of COVID-19, such as instituting health screenings and taking employee temperatures.  However, states, such as Minnesota, may have more restrictive limitations on employers when it comes to employee health examinations.

The Minnesota Human Rights Act, for example, makes employee health examinations, without employee consent illegal, except in limited circumstances.  In its guidance for employees, published March 20, 2020, the Minnesota Department of Human Rights states, “Employers may ask employees if they are experiencing influenza-like symptoms, such as fever or chills, and a cough or sore throat.”  There is no guidance for employees on whether an employer testing an employee’s temperature is an acceptable employment practice.  Make sure, before implementing the changes advised by the CDC, that you consult with the appropriate legal counsel to make sure the steps you’re taking are acceptable in the eyes of the law.  If you or your organization are in need of legal guidance, contact the Wiley Law Office, for timely legal advice that works.