California Department Of Public Health Provides Guidance For Employers Responding To COVID-19 Outbreaks

Jackson Lewis P.C.

As businesses reopen, employers will almost certainly be faced with the potential of a COVID-19 outbreak in the workplace. In addition to the industry-specific guidance for reopening that the State of California has issued, the California Department of Public Health (the Department) recently issued guidance for employers responding to a COVID-19 outbreak in the workplace.

The guidance is intended to apply to all workplaces experiencing a workplace COVID-19 outbreak, exclusive of healthcare, congregate living, and other workplaces where the Cal/OSHA Aerosol Transmissible Disease (ATD) standard applies to control possible exposures to COVID-19. Employers should note that an “outbreak” can be defined differently by local public health orders. Therefore, employers should familiarize themselves with how the term is defined in their workplace jurisdiction, as well as jurisdictions in which employees reside.

To prepare for the possibility of an outbreak, employers also are encouraged to designate an infection prevention coordinator who will implement infection prevention procedures, develop mechanisms for tracking suspected and confirmed cases among employees, and ensure sick leave policies are generous and flexible enough to accommodate employees who must stay home sick.

The Department also advises employers should be prepared to share information with the local health department (LHD) should a known or suspected outbreak occur in the workplace. This can include notifying the LHD in the county where the positive employee resides—even if an employee resides in a jurisdiction outside of where the workplace is located. Employers may be asked to provide the LHD a roster of all employees in the jurisdiction where the workplace outbreak is occurring. The Department further recommends that employers communicate with the LHD on how frequently the LHD expects updates from the employer on newly identified cases and symptomatic employees in the workplace and during the outbreak.

The Department states that, in the event of a workplace outbreak, testing all employees in the workplace should be the first strategy considered for the identification of additional cases when needed to control workplace spread of COVID-19. Testing should be done with the assistance of the LHD. When testing is not available or recommended by the LHD, employers should consider alternative methods for controlling the outbreak, including contact tracing and advising close contacts of positive employees about home quarantine and isolation. The guidance emphasizes that employers must maintain the confidentiality of employees with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 infection when communicating with other employees. In addition, employers are directed to familiarize themselves with the requirements of reporting employee cases to Cal/OSHA, including reporting COVID-19 inpatient hospitalizations and deaths among employees.

The guidance also indicates that as part of the outbreak management, the LHD may recommend a strategy to the employer for allowing employees to return to work following a confirmed COVID-19 exposure. While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) most recent guidance on return to work should be considered, a strategy that may be recommended by the LHD consists of the following:

Symptomatic Positive

Employees with symptoms who are laboratory confirmed to have COVID-19

At least 3 days (72 hours) have passed since recovery, defined as resolution of fever without the use of fever-reducing medications and improvement in respiratory symptoms (e.g., cough, shortness of breath); and, at least 10 days have passed since symptoms first appeared.

Asymptomatic Positive

Employees who never had symptoms and are laboratory confirmed to have COVID-19


A minimum of 10 days has passed since the date of their first positive COVID-19 test. If they develop symptoms, then the criteria for laboratory-confirmed cases with symptoms apply.

Symptomatic Negative

Employees who had symptoms of COVID-19, but test result returned negative

Use the same criteria for return to work as laboratory-confirmed cases.

Asymptomatic Negative

Employees who never had symptoms, but were tested due to close contact with a laboratory-confirmed case-patient and were negative

Employees should quarantine at home for 14 days after the last known close contact with the case-patient. Symptoms can develop even after testing negative within 14 days after exposure.

Symptomatic Untested

Employees who had symptoms of COVID-19 but were not tested

Testing is highly recommended. If the employee cannot be tested, use the same criteria for return to work as laboratory-confirmed cases.

Asymptomatic Untested

Employees who had close contact with a laboratory-confirmed case patient at work, home, or in the community and do not have symptoms.


Employees who refuse or are unable to be tested after close contact with a laboratory-confirmed case, despite a recommendation for testing from LHD or healthcare provider, and do not have symptoms.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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