As COVID-19 testing becomes more readily available in some states, more individuals are seeking testing due to exposure to an individual with COVID-19, exhibiting symptoms, or other varying reasons. When an employee receives the good news that their test results are negative, it can spark questions for employers and employees alike.
Is the employee eligible for Employee Paid Sick Leave (EPSL) under the Families First Act?
Covered employees are eligible for EPSL if they have symptoms of COVID-19, or were directly exposed to someone with COVID-19, and are seeking a medical diagnosis. Thus, eligible employees can receive EPSL for time spent making, waiting for, or attending an appointment for a test for COVID-19 and awaiting results. Once employees receive notice that their results are negative, generally their eligibility for EPSL ends.
Q&A #62 published by the U.S. Department of Labor states, “Note that you may not take paid sick leave under the FFCRA if you become ill with an illness not related to COVID-19.” A negative test result can help conclude that a symptomatic employee has an illness or condition not related to COVID-19. If a health care provider orders the employee to continue with quarantine despite negative results, employers will need to assess the supporting documentation to determine if EPSL applies or whether the time off is unpaid or subject to other leave benefits.
When can an employee who was exposed to COVID-19, whose test results are negative, return to work?
The CDC recommends 14 days of quarantine after exposure of greater than 15 minutes and within 6 feet of someone who tests positive for COVID-19. The CDC does not address whether a negative test result changes the length of recommended quarantine. Employers should use good judgment for returning the employee to work, based on all factors (i.e., extent of exposure, whether any symptoms are present, and time passed since the exposure).
When can an employee with symptoms, whose test results are negative, return to work?
Per CDC guidelines, using the symptom-based strategy, symptomatic employees may discontinue isolation after they are fever free for 24 hours, have improved symptoms, and ten days have passed since symptoms first appeared. Under the CDC’s test-based strategy, symptomatic individuals should produce two negative test results collected more than 24 hours apart, and also experience improved symptoms, before discontinuing isolation. If an employee does not undergo two COVID-19 tests, employers are encouraged to follow recommendations under the symptom-based strategy.