These last few years have been unlike anything most of us have ever experienced before. The COVID-19 pandemic has altered every aspect of our lives, from how we celebrate holidays to how we shop for groceries to what our children’s school lives look like. Some of the biggest changes that we’ve experienced have involved when it’s okay to show up for work and when it’s not. In fact, in some cases, it’s not just better to stay home from work, it’s required.
Can I Still Go to Work If I’m Exposed to COVID but I’m Vaccinated?
Gone are the days where people are encouraged, and even applauded, for working through illness and injury to get the job done. Now we live in a time where even if we feel fine, if we’ve encountered someone who has COVID, we are required to quarantine, get tested, and stay home from work until we can prove we don’t have COVID as well.
It’s a lot, and unfortunately, navigating this new normal doesn’t ever seem to get any easier, because public health guidelines keep changing too fast. It’s frustrating, but doing whatever we can to keep each other (especially the most vulnerable among us) safe is the right thing to do. However, doing the right thing shouldn’t cost us our paycheck or our job.
No one asks to get COVID, and no one should be punished for staying home from work if there’s even a chance they have it. For that reason, earlier this year, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) released the following COVID-19 isolation and quarantine recommendations for employers and workers:
- Unvaccinated and vaccinated workers who test positive for COVID – If a vaccinated or unvaccinated worker tests positive for COVID, they must stay away from work for at least five days. If the worker has no symptoms and tests negative, they can come back to work after five days. Workers who are unable to take a COVID test, or who refuse to take a COVID test, after five days will not be able to return to work until after 10 days away (if they have no symptoms).
- Unvaccinated workers who are exposed to COVID – An unvaccinated worker who is exposed to COVID isn’t eligible to come back to work for five days. The worker must take a COVID test on the fifth day. If they test negative, they can return to work. Workers who refuse to take a test, or cannot take a test for some reason, must remain away from work for 10 days. If after coming back, the worker develops symptoms, they must take a COVID test and stay away from the workplace pending the test results.
- Vaccinated workers (those who have been vaccinated and are booster eligible but have not been boosted yet) who are exposed to COVID – If these workers are exposed to COVID, they can still come to work if they don’t have any symptoms. However, they must take a COVID test three to five days after exposure and test negative to be fully in the clear. In addition, they must wear a mask at work until 10 days have passed since their exposure. Also, if they develop symptoms, they must stay home from work pending COVID test results.
- Boosted workers (those who have been vaccinated and boosted or those who have been vaccinated but are not yet eligible for the booster) who are exposed to COVID – If workers who fall under this category don’t have any symptoms after being exposed to COVID, they can still come to work. However, they must take a COVID test on their fifth day after exposure and test negative before they’re completely out of the woods. Also, during the first 10 days after their exposure, they must wear a face covering while at work. In addition, if they begin developing symptoms, they must take a COVID test and stay away from work pending the test results.
Can I Go to Work If I Tested Negative for COVID but Have Symptoms?
There have been instances where people have tested negative for COVID, and then tested positive a few days later. In some of these cases, even though the people initially tested negative, they had symptoms. This is a murky area. Generally, if a person has symptoms, but they test negative, they should discuss the situation with their physician and their employer before deciding whether to return to work or not (if the decision is even left in their hands).
Bottom line, the last thing you want to do is come to work only to find out a day or two later that you had COVID after all. Imagine how many co-workers you could expose to COVID during that time, and from there, your co-workers could go home and expose their families to it as well, including family members with compromised immune systems.
Also, in some cases, if you return to work too soon, you and/or your employer could be held liable if others at your place of employment are exposed to and/or catch COVID because of you. To know for sure, you should talk to an experienced employment lawyer about your situation before deciding whether to return to work or not.
Will I Still Get Paid If I Stay Home from Work Due to COVID?
In some cases, workers who are required to stay home from work due to COVID are eligible for exclusion pay. Exclusion pay was instituted under the Division of Occupational Safety and Health’s Emergency Temporary Standards (ETS) on COVID-19 Prevention policy. Basically, the policy states that if an employee cannot come into work because they were exposed to COVID-19 in the workplace, their employer must still provide them with the following while they’re away from the job:
- Salary (this can vary depending on how many days the employee was scheduled to work during the period they are required to stay away from their workplace)
Not everyone is eligible for exclusion pay. For instance, those who work from home are often not eligible for exclusion pay. Also, employees who received Disability Payments or Workers’ Compensation Temporary Disability Payments during the period they were out are generally not eligible for exclusion pay.
Another policy in place that may be able to help workers who are missing work due to COVID is the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The FMLA provides eligible employees with 12 weeks of unpaid leave within a 12-month period if they’re sick or caring for a family member who is sick. The leave is job-protected, meaning their job will be waiting for them when their leave is over. In some cases, employees who are suffering from COVID-19 or taking care of a family member with COVID may be eligible for leave under the FMLA. However, it’s complicated.
In fact, both exclusion pay and the FMLA are complicated policies, and unfortunately, some employers take advantage of the complexity of these policies to avoid providing employees with exclusion pay and/or the benefits they’re eligible for under FMLA. If you believe you have been denied exclusion pay or your employer has committed FMLA violations, you should speak with an experienced employment lawyer as soon as possible.
Problems at Work Due to COVID? Our Experienced Employment Attorney May Be Able to Help
For more than 25 years, employment attorney Bill Marder and the legal team at Polaris Law Group have fought for the rights of those who’ve suffered while on the job, including incidents involving:
- Wrongful Termination
- Severance Negotiation
- Whistleblower Claims
- Protected Leaves of Absence
- Unpaid Wages
- Unreimbursed Expenses
- FMLA Violations
As our clients’ testimonials show, at Polaris Law Group, we always put our clients first. We stay by their side through every step of the legal process, helping them avoid pitfalls and secure the best case results possible in their situation.
Call us at (888) 796-4010 or fill out our online contact form to set up a free case evaluation today. We can help!