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What the CDC’s Latest Guidance Means For Employers and for Fully Vaccinated Employees in their Workplace

Posted by: Karen Booher on May 17th, 2021

Subject to applicable state and local mandates, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently issued revised guidance that essentially allows fully vaccinated individuals to resume their pre-pandemic lifestyle. But, the CDC also stated that individuals “will still need to follow the guidance at your workplace”.

This is a dynamic topic and new guidance is frequently being issued. Certain states and local jurisdictions may impose restrictions beyond what the CDC is allowing. Thus, it is important for employers to check what their state and local mandates may be before taking any actions. But, as of now, the following are some changes employers could make.

Workplace and Workspace, In General (Exceptions Apply)

Most workplaces will have a mix of vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals. It appears that vaccinated employees, in most organizations, need not wear masks or observe social distancing protocols. However, the CDC still says that unvaccinated employees should continue to maintain all Covid-19 protocols, including masking and distancing.

If all employees in a particular enclosed workspace are vaccinated, those employees need not wear masks or stay at least six feet apart – unless there is a state or local masking mandate that still applies to the workplace. Vaccinated vendors, clients, or other visitors to the workplace also need not wear a mask, while unvaccinated ones should continue to do so.

Small-Group Meetings

If all participants in a meeting have been vaccinated, they need not wear masks or stay at least 6 feet apart during the meeting. Although the CDC guidance permits vaccinated individuals to be within 6 feet of unmasked, unvaccinated ones, the guidance for unvaccinated individuals continues to emphasize the need for a mask and distancing, apparently even from vaccinated individuals. Best practice would be to require unvaccinated employees to continue to wear a mask when meeting with their vaccinated, mask-free colleagues.

Business Travel

Employers can allow fully vaccinated employees to resume business travel, both domestic and international. Domestic travelers need not test before or after travel, while international travelers must be tested before returning to the U.S., with testing recommended 3-5 days following their return. Both domestic and international travelers need not quarantine following travel. There may, however, be additional testing and quarantine requirements imposed by the travel destination or local/state mandates.

Employers should try to minimize any required travel for unvaccinated employees. Moreover, employers should be thoughtful in responding to employee concerns about required travel – particularly for older employees or those with underlying health conditions, even if they have been fully vaccinated.

Exposed Employees; Symptomatic Employees; and Those Testing Positive

The CDC states that if it has been more than two weeks since the employee was fully vaccinated, they need not quarantine. For unvaccinated individuals, the quarantine period is at least 7 and up to 14 days.

Exposed, vaccinated employees should still monitor for symptoms, and if a vaccinated employee develops symptoms of Covid-19 following exposure, they should isolate in accordance with the CDC’s guidelines, seek a medical evaluation, and possibly be tested. Those testing positive should isolate.

It is important to remember that vaccinated employees can still get Covid-19.

Employees with symptoms or who have tested positive may be able to work remotely, or may need leave. If sick leave is available or mandated by state or local law – or FFCRA leave is available and allowed by the employer (through Sept. 30, 2021) – they will be entitled to take such leave during the isolation period.

Reasonable Accommodations

Vaccinations do not eliminate the need to provide reasonable accommodations if the employee has a disability. For example, employers should not be quick to assume that an employee with a condition that puts them at higher risk of serious illness from Covid-19 no longer needs to telework following vaccination. As always, reasonable accommodations should be considered on a case-by-case basis, and a disabled employee may still need to telework following vaccination if their medical provider supports that requirement.

OSHA Guidance Expected Soon

OSHA, which was created in 1970 to ensure safe and healthful working conditions for workers, is soon expected to issue its Covid-19 Temporary Emergency Standard, which may or may not be consistent with the CDC’s general recommendations and guidance. So, further modifications may be expected shortly.

In the end, employers have the right to follow more stringent protocols. Clear and specific communication about what workplace protocols are and why they are required are helpful to minimize resistance from some employees, managers, and visitors.

In the weeks and months ahead, employers should strive for open communication and be clear in directing their employees as to the appropriate channel for complaints and grievances as we all continue to navigate this complex new era.

This article is informational and does not represent to be legal advice. 


ASA Staffing Today, May 17, 2021. “Back to Normal for the Fully Vaccinated? What the CDC’s Latest Guidance Means for Employers“. Lexology (05/14/21) Ong, Fiona W.

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