Question: If our state is “reopened” for business, do we still have to comply with quarantine requirements after an employee is exposed to someone with COVID-19 (coronavirus)? What if the employee is fully vaccinated?
Answer: The lifting of restrictions on businesses’ ability to operate is separate from your obligation as an employer to comply with federal, state, and/or local quarantine requirements after an employee is exposed to COVID-19. The good news is that the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the states of Arizona, California, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington all agree that you may allow fully vaccinated employees to continue working after exposure, as long as they don’t exhibit any symptoms of the virus. An employee is fully vaccinated if at least two weeks have passed since the final dose in their vaccine regimen (i.e., the second dose of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines and the single dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine). An employee is exposed to COVID-19 if they’ve been within 6 feet of someone who is confirmed to have COVID-19 for a cumulative total of 15 minutes over a 24-hour period. The exposure must occur: (1) during the 48 hours before the sick person developed symptoms or submitted a specimen that tested positive; or (2) during the mandatory isolation period (generally 10 days) after the sick person developed symptoms or submitted a specimen that tested positive.
A couple of potential complications exist in Montana. One involves our previous report on a new law in Montana (HB 702) that prohibits employers and businesses as of May 7, 2021, from discriminating against individuals on the basis of vaccination status. For an employer, this includes discriminating against someone in a “term, condition, or privilege of employment.” It’s possible that allowing fully vaccinated employees, but not other employees, to be excused from quarantine requirements could violate this new state law. The safest approach would be to require any exposed worker, regardless of vaccination status, to quarantine. A second complication is Montana’s dated quarantine guidance, issued February 12, 2021, by the Department of Public Health and Human Services, which says fully vaccinated status is only good for three months after the final dose of the vaccine, for purposes of exceptions to quarantine requirements. This position is aggressive in relation to the CDC, which hasn’t yet determined a time limit on vaccine effectiveness, but Montana employers should keep it in mind when deciding whether to allow fully vaccinated workers to continue working after exposure.
The purpose of quarantine is to keep an exposed individual away from others while waiting to see whether they develop symptoms. The default length of quarantine for unvaccinated workers is 14 days, although the CDC and some states allow shorter periods in certain circumstances. See our previous articles on Oregon’s rule here and the CDC’s rule (followed by the states of Arizona, California, Idaho, Montana, and Washington) here. If you allow fully vaccinated workers to continue working after exposure to COVID-19, you should still instruct them to monitor themselves for symptoms during the 14 days after the most recent exposure. Tell them to notify you if they develop symptoms. They should stay away from the worksite and get direction from their health care provider. If it turns out that they have COVID-19, they’ll need to follow isolation protocols. If they were present at a worksite where other workers were present, you’ll also need to comply with any state or local workplace notification or sanitation requirements.
You should continue to follow public health guidance on quarantine after COVID-19 exposure until such guidance is rescinded. In the meantime, if you have any questions, contact your Vigilant Law Group employment attorney.