Under updated guidance issued by the California Department of Public Health (“CDPH”), certain asymptomatic unvaccinated employees who have had a close contact exposure to someone with COVID-19 may end their quarantine and return to work seven (7) days after the exposure as opposed to ten (10) days.
The CDPH guidance provides that unvaccinated individuals who have a close contact exposure may discontinue the required quarantine after seven (7) days, so long as the individual is asymptomatic, is tested for COVID-19 at least five (5) days after the exposure, and the test produces a negative result. This quarantine period is shorter than the ten (10) day exclusion period required for such individuals under the Cal/OSHA COVID-19 Regulations.
Employers may rely on the updated CDPH guidance to allow unvaccinated employees who satisfy the return-to-work criteria to return sooner than previously permitted. Employers do not need to adhere to the lengthier exclusion period under the Cal/OSHA COVID-19 Regulations because Executive Order N-84-20 provides that CDPH may establish a shorter exclusion requirement.
Duration of Quarantine for Unvaccinated Individuals
Given the updated guidance, asymptomatic unvaccinated employees who have a close contact exposure may discontinue their quarantine and return to work under either of the following circumstances:
- Ten (10) days after the date of the last known close contact exposure without being tested for COVID-19; or
- Seven (7) days after the last known close contact exposure if the employee is tested for COVID-19 no earlier than the fifth (5th) day following the last exposure and the employee tests negative.
In addition to the rules regarding the discontinuation of the quarantine, asymptomatic unvaccinated employees should continue daily self-monitoring for symptoms and follow all recommended safety precautions (wearing a mask when around others, hand washing, avoiding crowds, and staying at least six feet from others) for fourteen (14) days following the last known exposure. If an employer prevents one of their employees from complying with these conditions, the employee will need to observe the longer exclusion period specified in the Cal/OSHA COVID-19 Regulations.
As a result of the updated guidance, employers may direct unvaccinated employees who are excluded from work as a result of a close contact exposure to be tested for COVID-19 on the fifth (5th) day following the exposure in order to return to work in a shorter period of time. Employers should note that if they direct employees to be tested, the employer will be responsible for any costs incurred by the employee as a result and compensation for the time waiting to be tested and being tested.
Employers should also note that they have an obligation to adhere to the most restrictive or prescriptive applicable guidance on this subject and certain local health departments may still require a full ten (10) day quarantine regardless of testing.
LCW attorneys are familiar with the operation and interaction of the laws and public health orders implicated here and are ready to assist employers revise their policies and practice to account for the updated guidance.
 CDPH, Guidance on Isolation and Quarantine for COVID-19 Contact Tracing (last updated on September 9, 2021) <https://www.cdph.ca.gov/Programs/CID/DCDC/Pages/COVID-19/Guidance-on-Isolation-and-Quarantine-for-COVID-19-Contact-Tracing.aspx>.
 The CDPH defines “close contact” as an individual who comes within 6 feet for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period with someone with suspected or confirmed COVID-19.
 Executive Order N-84-20 (December 14, 2020) <https://www.gov.ca.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/12.14.20-EO-N-84-20-COVID-19.pdf>.
 Labor Code, § 2802 subd. (a).
 29 C.F.R. § 785.43.