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South Carolina Employers Receive Guidance For Responding To COVID-19 Scenarios

7.7.20

The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) has issued interim guidance for employers to rely on when responding to various scenarios involving COVID-19 in the workplace. Among others, scenarios addressed by DHEC involve those where an employee tests positive, lives or has close contact with someone who tests positive, or is a patron of a restaurant where a staff member tests positive.

DHEC’s new guidance largely mirrors that currently provided to businesses by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) regarding the necessary periods for employee home isolation, although one period has been extended by DHEC to a minimum of 17 days in cases involving employees who live with a person who tests positive for COVID-19. Other return-to-work scenarios may also necessitate additional consultation with DHEC.

We provide a breakdown of DHEC’s guidance below. South Carolina employers should consider implementing the following best practices when responding to suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the workplace.

Best Practices For When An Employee Tests Positive For COVID-19

When an employee tests positive for COVID-19, you should first tell that employee to stay home and recommend they contact their healthcare provider. You should then have Human Resources, Employee Relations, or a supervisor gather important documentation from the positive employee (i.e. date of onset of symptoms, date test results were received, recent exposure to co-workers or customers, etc.).

In addition, employers should perform a co-worker exposure assessment after learning about a positive COVID-19 case in the workplace. While maintaining confidentiality of the employee who tested positive as required under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), you should also notify the employee’s co-workers of their possible exposure to COVID-19 at work.

Employers will also need to consider criteria issued by DHEC related to release from home isolation:

Given the above criteria, DHEC appears to be advocating that employers implement a symptom-based strategy to determine when an employee should return to work after testing positive. DHEC has not addressed in its guidance whether employers could also rely on a test-based strategy, such as that currently offered as an option to employers under recent CDC guidance. Under the CDC’s test-based strategy, employees who have tested positive and have symptoms may return to work when the employee has no fever, respiratory symptoms have improved, and the employee receives two negative test results in a row, at least 24 hours apart. Employees who have tested positive but do not have any symptoms may return to work after satisfying the latter requirement.

Best Practices For When An Employee Is Ill But Has Not Taken A COVID-19 Test

Employees should be sent home and receive encouragement to get tested for COVID-19 when they have not yet done so and experience symptoms consistent with COVID-19. After sending the ill employee home, you should follow the protocol below:

You should also notify those who had contact with the ill employee while the employee had symptoms, and two days prior to the symptoms appearing. You should then implement additional precautions for those employees as described in our Comprehensive And Updated FAQs For Employers On The COVID-19 Coronavirus.

Best Practices For When An Employee Is A Close Contact With A Positive COVID-19 Case

You should also send an employee home if they live or were in close contact with someone who tests positive for COVID-19. In this scenario, employees may not return to work unless the following criteria is met:

Significantly, DHEC has clarified that testing negative does not shorten either of the two necessary quarantine periods listed above.

Best Practices For When An Employee Is A Close Contact Of Someone Who Is Sick But Has Not Been Tested

When an employee lives or was in close contact with someone who displays symptoms of COVID-19 but has not yet been tested, the employee may remain at work provided they do not display symptoms of COVID-19 while the contact is tested and is waiting on their results.

However, in cases where the contact tests positive for COVID-19, you should send the employee home and follow the guidance for release from home isolation provided above concerning best practices for when an employee is a close contact with a positive COVID-19 case.  

Best Practices For When An Employee Is A “Contact of a Contact”

DHEC has provided different considerations for employees who are a “contact of a contact,” which means the employee lives or was in close contact with a person who was in close contact with another person who tests positive for COVID-19 or displays symptoms of COVID-19. CDC guidance does not appear to address what actions employers should take when an employee is a “contact of a contact.” According to DHEC, you should take the following steps:

In line with the CDC, DHEC notes that a person may qualify as a close contact irrespective of whether the person was wearing a cloth face covering or respiratory personal protective equipment (PPE).

Restaurant Patrons

Employers should also have a protocol for responding to cases where it is determined that an employee was a patron of a restaurant that later announces that a restaurant employee has tested positive for COVID-19.

Under DHEC guidance, an employee who falls into this category may remain at work provided they do not have symptoms. However, if an employee begins to display symptoms consistent with COVID-19, employers are instructed to follow the same procedure concerning release from home isolation provided in the section above concerning best practices for when an employee is sick but has not taken a COVID-19 test.  

Critical Infrastructure Workers

DHEC acknowledges that its guidance does not address critical infrastructure workers and refers businesses to the CDC’s recently relaxed guidelines on this point. Those guidelines now allow critical infrastructure workers potentially exposed to COVID-19 to continue to work following exposure provided they remain symptom-free and employers implement additional precautions to protect the employee and the community. Employers in critical infrastructure industries should continue to rely on the CDC guidelines.

Conclusion

Fisher Phillips will continue to monitor the rapidly developing COVID-19 situation and provide updates as appropriate. Make sure you are subscribed to Fisher Phillips’ Alert System to get the most up-to-date information. For further information, contact your Fisher Phillips attorney, any attorney in our Columbia office, or any member of our COVID-19 Taskforce. You can also review our FP BEYOND THE CURVE: Post-Pandemic Back-To-Business FAQs For Employers and our FP Resource Center For Employers, maintained by our Taskforce.


This Legal Alert provides an overview of a specific developing situation. It is not intended to be, and should not be construed as, legal advice for any particular fact situation.

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