CDC Offers New COVID-19 Guidance for Employers

Author: David B. Weisenfeld, XpertHR Legal Editor

May 21, 2020

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued new guidance to help workplaces, child care centers and other institutions to safely reopen. The 60-page document includes interim guidance for employers with workers considered at high risk from the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, including those over 65 and those with underlying medical conditions.

These conditions include but are not limited to:

  • Chronic lung disease;
  • Moderate to severe asthma;
  • Hypertension;
  • Severe heart conditions;
  • Severe obesity;
  • Diabetes;
  • Liver disease; and
  • Chronic kidney disease that requires dialysis.

The CDC said that while employers should take particular care to reduce workers' risk of exposure, they also must still comply with Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) regulations.

Speaking with XpertHR before this guidance was issued, New York City employment attorney Jason Habinsky offered advice that is consistent with this point:

"You don't want to assume that someone does not want to come back to the workplace, or is incapable of coming back to the workplace, simply because they're of a certain age or because you may assume they have some sort of medical condition," said Habinsky. "Accommodate but don't discriminate."

While the CDC guidance applies to workplaces generally, it noted that specific industries may require stricter safety precautions. It recommends a gradual, three-step approach as business ramp up their operations. It also discusses the importance of healthy hygiene practices and of daily cleaning and disinfecting protocols.

The CDC also acknowledged the need for community mitigation measures until a vaccine or more effective treatment is available. This means employers must continue to:

  • Check state and local health department notices daily about transmission in the area and adjust operations accordingly; and
  • Be prepared to consider closing for a few days if there is a case of COVID-19 in the workplace or for longer if cases increase in the local area.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) also has revised guidance for reducing workplace exposures and to ensure employers respond appropriately to protect employees, whether a COVID-19 case is work-related or not.