New CDC Isolation Guidance and Employee Leave Considerations

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) new guidance that individuals no longer need to isolate from work for five days following a positive COVID-19 test may raise questions with employers about what leave they are required to provide to employees with the virus.

The revised guidance, issued March 1, 2024, advises that people who are sick with COVID-19 or another respiratory virus stay home and away from others.  However, isolation is not necessary if an individual with COVID-19 has been fever-free for at least 24 hours without medication and their symptoms are improving. The guidance states that the period people should stay home and away from others could be shorter, the same or longer than the previous guidance for COVID-19 isolation. The new guidance is not applicable to health care settings, which have their own CDC recommendations.

From an employee leave perspective, employers should note that while most COVID-19-specific employee leave laws have expired, some—like New York state’s—are still in effect. Moreover, state and local paid sick leave laws that are not specific to COVID-19 apply to illness generally, including for a worker experiencing COVID-19 symptoms like fever. Some of these laws have specific provisions concerning communicable disease.

In addition, sick workers may be eligible for leave for their own illness or to care for an ill family member under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act or similar state family and medical leave laws.

Employers should familiarize themselves with any remaining state or local COVID-19 leave laws that apply to them. They should also ensure compliance with non-COVID-19 federal, state and local leave law mandates, as they may apply to workers with COVID-19.