May I legally require employees who believe they are ill with COVID-19 or who may have come into contact with COVID-19 to remain away from the workplace for a period of time?
Yes. Employers may legally require an employee who is sick at work to leave the worksite and may also implement other attendance policies intended to protect the health of their workforce.
It is important for companies to have an infectious disease control policy and to consider how the policy applies to COVID-19. Companies should appoint a human resources administrator or another appropriate person to take calls from employees who believe they should self-quarantine and determine whether the self-quarantine policy applies in that employee’s situation. Consistency in applying the policy is critical.
In making determinations about the application of self-quarantine policies, it is important to note that COVID-19 can be hard to distinguish from other respiratory illnesses, particularly in mild cases. The Center for Disease Control (“CDC”) reports patients with COVID-19 have had mild to severe respiratory illness. Symptoms can include fever, cough, and shortness of breath. Symptoms may appear 2-14 days after exposure to the virus that causes the illness.
Employees who are infected with COVID-19 should follow the advice of their physicians. The CDC has provided guidance for assessing and managing risk of potential exposures to COVID-19 and for discontinuing home isolation for individuals that test positive for COVID-19 or who are caring for someone who tests positive for COVID-19. Employers should follow that guidance.
Employers may require a doctor’s note from employees to verify they are healthy and able to return to work. However, requiring testing or health certificates for return to work for asymptomatic individuals is not a legal requirement and is generally not currently recommended so as to prevent further burdening the healthcare system.
Note that the CDC has provided return to work guidance specifically for healthcare personnel, which can be found at: Return to Work for Healthcare Personnel with Confirmed or Suspected COVID-19.
Last updated June 22
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