CDC COVID-19 Workplace Reopening Guidelines – High-Risk Employees

Wilson Elser
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Wilson Elser

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued guidance to assist national and local COVID-19 mitigation efforts, including the reopening of businesses. The guidance document, CDC Activities and Initiatives Supporting the COVID-19 Response and the President’s Plan for Opening America Up Again, is a compendium that summarizes the CDC’s initiatives, activities and resources; proposes a general three-phase plan for reopening; and provides specific guidelines for high-risk workers, child care programs, schools and day camps, restaurants and bars, and mass transit administrators.

Under the general phases, the guidelines propose the use of six benchmarks, colloquially known as “gating criteria,” that individual states and communities should assess before progressing into each phase of reopening. The gating criteria include decreases in newly identified COVID-19 cases, decreases in emergency department and/or outpatient visits for influenza-like illnesses, and the availability of a robust testing program.

The guidance also proposes a three-step progressive process with a detailed list of recommended safety measures to assist businesses as they begin to reopen. For example, businesses are to intensify cleaning and disinfecting efforts and must ensure the availability of adequate supplies, including hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol and no-touch trash cans. Businesses also must consider installing physical barriers and closing communal spaces such as break rooms to promote social distancing. The guidance is not a one-size-fits-all proposal. Consistent with state and local requirements, businesses may choose the measures applicable to their operations.

As to employers with workers at high risk for severe illness from COVID-19, i.e., workers over age 65 and those with underlying medical conditions that may make them more susceptible to severe illness, the CDC recommends that employers protect high-risk employees with remote work accommodations or job duties involving minimal contact with others.

The progressive three steps toward reopening for employers with high-risk employees are:

  • Step 1: Scale up only if the business can ensure strict social distancing, proper cleaning and disinfecting requirements, and protection of workers and customers. It is recommended that high-risk workers shelter in place.
  • Step 2: Scale up only if the business can ensure moderate social distancing, proper cleaning and disinfecting requirements, and protection of workers and customers. It is recommended that high-risk workers shelter in place.
  • Step 3: Scale up only if the business can ensure limited social distancing, proper cleaning and disinfecting requirements, and protection of workers and customers.

The guidance recommends that high-risk employees should be encouraged to self-identify, and employers should avoid making unnecessary medical inquiries. Careful consideration should be given to reducing workers’ risk of exposure to COVID-19 consistent with relevant Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) regulations, as well as CDC and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) guidelines.

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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