Returning to Work in 2022

Return to work guidelines

The guidelines for returning to work amid the COVID-19 pandemic seem to be in a constant state of evolution. As we learn more about the virus and how it is spread, the medical community and workplaces are able to update their policies and procedures to reflect changes. So it is no surprise that new guidelines were released for medical personnel in late December of 2021. The information contained in these guidelines has inspired many changes to policy heading into 2022.

What are the current return to work guidelines for most industries?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued information about general workplace guidelines for returning to work. This information is meant to protect employers and employees from misinformation about the virus and exposure. The guidelines may vary depending upon the vaccination status of the individual. However, key takeaways include:

  • Unvaccinated: For those who are unvaccinated, they should stay at home for at least a full five days after exposure to someone with COVID-19. They should also get tested as soon as possible after exposure, even if asymptomatic. If they experience any symptoms, such as a sore throat, cough, body aches, difficulty breathing, or diarrhea, it is required that they get a test and quarantine until they receive the results. Travel is discouraged unless you have a negative test, and unvaccinated should wear a mask after exposure to COVID-19 for at least ten days after being exposed.
  • Fully Vaccinated: Quarantining is not mandatory for those exposed to COVID-19 if they are fully vaccinated, which involves the first series of two shots and a booster as of early 2022. However, if they develop any symptoms within ten days after exposure, they should quarantine for at least five days. Fully vaccinated individuals should also get tested at least five days after contact with an infected individual, even if they do not develop symptoms. These individuals are also advised to wear a mask for at least ten days after exposure, and travel is discouraged without a negative test.
  • Positive Individuals: After receiving a positive test (whether vaccinated or unvaccinated), an individual should isolate for at least five days or until all symptoms are gone. The CDC also advises that isolation should not end until you no longer have a fever for at least 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing medication. Asymptomatic individuals should still isolate for at least five days. If you develop severe symptoms, you should extend isolation for ten days or until a physician has determined you are ready to exit isolation. Those with a positive test are also advised to wear a mask for the entire ten days, even if you are no longer isolated after five days. International travel is prohibited for individuals with a positive test. 

This overview provides a general overview of when it may be safe to return to work after exposure or a positive COVID-19 test. However, each case is unique, and it is always a good idea to discuss any concerns about returning to work with a physician.

What are the guidelines for those working in healthcare?

While the CDC guidelines above are general, there are some differences for healthcare workers, as outlined in the Interim Guidance for Managing Healthcare Personnel with SARS-CoV-2 Infection or Exposure to SARS-CoV-2. This document includes the following highlights for healthcare workers:

  • Healthcare workers with COVID-19 who are asymptomatic and not immunocompromised can return to work after seven days with a negative test taken in the last 48 hours.
  • Healthcare workers with COVID-19 may return to work after ten days without a negative test.
  • An infected but asymptomatic worker can return at day five with a negative test or day seven without a test. However, if they test positive between days five and seven, they must complete isolation for a full ten days before returning to work.
  • Healthcare workers who have had high-risk exposure can continue working but must test after 24 hours and again between five to seven days after the exposure.

What are my responsibilities as an employer if one of my staff tests positive?

If you have a positive COVID-19 case in the workplace, you are expected to follow all of the CDC guidelines above before allowing the employee to return to work. Additionally, you will want to investigate who has been infected and begin notifying employees who were in close contact with the positive individual but do not provide the name of the infected person. If there is an outbreak in your workplace, you must notify the local health authority. It is also good practice to ensure that employees take safety precautions and the workplace is disinfected.

Adhering to the changing return to work guidelines can be difficult for many employers—contact CA HR Services today to learn more about adopting sound return to work policies.

CA HR Services specializes in working with small and medium-sized companies to help develop legal, efficient, and appropriate H.R. processes and procedures that meet state and federal labor law requirements.