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What to do when an Employee Tests Positive, has Symptoms, or is Exposed to COVID-19

The New York Department of Health (“DOH”) recently issued revised Interim Guidance for infected and exposed employees to COVID-19. The protocols apply to all New York employers, except for health care or nursing home professionals, who have separate protocols and guidance for staff to return to work. Employers should revise their safety plans to conform to the updated protocols discussed below, including the shortened isolation period and the now more limited exception for “critical” workers. Employers should communicate the change in rules to managers and supervisors, employees, and contractors.

DOH Protocols for Infected and Exposed Employees

The DOH Interim Guidance sets forth the following amended protocols for responding to COVID-19-positive employees, as well as employees with COVID-19 symptoms or exposure to the virus (with or without symptoms).

What to do when an Employee Tests Positive for COVID-19

An employee who tests positive for COVID-19, regardless of whether the employee is symptomatic or asymptomatic, may return to work if he or she remains asymptomatic and either:

  • completes at least 10 days of “isolation” from the onset of symptoms, or

  • concludes 10 days of isolation after the first positive test.

What to do when an Employee Comes in Close or Proximate Contact with a COVID-19-Positive Person and is SYMPTOMATIC

An employee who has had “close or proximate contact” with a person with COVID-19 for a “prolonged period of time” and is symptomatic must complete at least 10 days of isolation from the onset of symptoms before returning to work.

  • The DOH defines a “close contact” as an individual “who was within 6 feet of an infected person for at least 10 minutes starting from 48 hours before illness onset until the time the person was isolated.”

What to do when an Employee Comes in Close or Proximate Contact with a COVID-19-Positive Person but is ASYMPTOMATIC

If an employee who had close or proximate contact with an infected person for a prolonged period of time is not symptomatic, the employee may return to work after 14 days of self-quarantine.

  • An exposed, asymptomatic employee who is “essential and critical for the operation or safety of the workplace” may return to the workplace sooner if:

    • his or her supervisor and human resources representative, after consulting “with appropriate state and local health authorities” make a “documented determination” that it is safe for the employee to return to work before completion of the mandated 14-day quarantine, and

    • the employee adheres to the following practices prior to and during his/her work shift, “which should be monitored and documented by the employer and employee”:

      • Self-monitors for a temperature of at least 100.0 degrees Fahrenheit every 12 hours and COVID-19 symptoms “under the supervision of their employer’s occupational health program”;

      • Always wears a face mask while in the workplace for 14 days after last exposure;

      • Practices social distancing, including maintaining at least six feet of distance from others; and

      • Self-quarantines and self-monitors for temperature and symptoms when not at the workplace for 14 days after last exposure.

      • The employer must continue to regularly clean and disinfect all areas such as offices, bathrooms, common areas, and shared electronic equipment.

What to do if an Employee Arrives at the Workplace Symptomatic, or Becomes Symptomatic at Work

An employee who is symptomatic when he or she arrives at the workplace or becomes sick with COVID-19 symptoms while at work, but has not been in close or proximate contact with an infected person, must be sent home immediately for “at least 10 days of isolation from the onset of symptoms OR upon receipt of a negative COVID-19 test result.”

Our Firm has extensive experience counseling employers and businesses on employee and labor law issues, particularly the evolving regulations during the COVID-19 pandemic. If you have any questions related to this legal briefing or questions related to COVID-19 reopening rules and procedures, please contact any member of our Firm at 585-730-4773. Please note that any embedded links to other documents may expire in the future.


This Legal Briefing is intended for general informational and educational purposes only and should not be considered legal advice or counsel. The substance of this Legal Briefing is not intended to cover all legal issues or developments regarding the matter. Please consult with an attorney to ascertain how these new developments may relate to you or your business. ©2020 Law Offices of Pullano & Farrow PLLC

For more COVID-19 Legal Updates, please visit our resource page.


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