CDC Expands the Definition of “Close Contact”
On October 21, 2020, the CDC significantly expanded the definition of “close contact” relating to COVID-19 infection. The new rule defines “close contact” as 15 total minutes of exposure at less than a six-foot distance with an infected person over a 24-hour period. The old rule defined “close contact” as 15 minutes of continuous exposure at less than a six-foot distance with an infected person.
The new broader definition is significant because it will impact the steps an employer must take in the event of “close contact” with an infected person in the workplace, including notifying employees, customers and vendors that they were in “close contact” with someone who could have transmitted COVID-19. With the new definition, far more otherwise incidental daily workplace interactions could be implicated than before. This is because even short interactions will now count towards the 15-minute total. Thus, employers will need to be extraordinarily diligent in monitoring all workplace activity.
Also, the new broader definition of “close contact” may have a material impact on staffing. The CDC guidelines require a 14-day quarantine after “close contact” with an infected person. Thus, far more employees may need to be quarantined than before the change.
The foregoing expansion of the definition of “close contact” not only makes ensuring a safe workplace more onerous, but the following development illustrates that there can be significant ramifications for not meeting the standards.
OSHA Issues Over $1.2 Million in Penalties for COVID-Related Safety Violations
OSHA recently announced over $1.2 million in penalties for COVID-related workplace safety violations. Available information indicates many of the violations pertained to personal protective equipment and failure to report workplace illnesses.
According to OSHA, specific violations included failures to:
Many, but not all, of the penalties were issued to healthcare organizations.
In light of the new CDC guidance and OSHA enforcement actions, employers should revisit their reopening policies and procedures. These plans may need to be modified to ensure continued compliance. Because the scientific research on COVID-19 continues to evolve, employers should expect CDC and OSHA guidance to be updated again in the future.
The Coronavirus Task Force at Klehr Harrison stands ready to assist you in your business and legal needs. We will continue to provide additional information and guidance as the COVID-19 situation develops.
Authors Lee Moylan is Chair of the Labor and Employment practice at Klehr Harrison.