Skip to main content

The CDC Issues New COVID-Related Guidance: What This Means for Employers

For the first time since 2021, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued new guidance relaxing the quarantine requirements for COVID-19.  The new guidance is the result of fewer COVID-related deaths and hospitalizations in the United States, and the presence of preventive measures, such as vaccines. Importantly, the recent guidelines and recommendations are no longer COVID-specific, but now address COVID-19 along with other common respiratory viral illnesses including, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and the flu, which pose similar health risks and impacts as COVID-19.   

With this guidance, the CDC no longer recommends a five-day quarantine period for those who test positive for COVID-19, but instead recommends that those infected with the virus (and other respiratory viruses) return to their normal activities 24 hours after symptoms have been improving and when individuals are feverless for at least 24 hours without medication. Here, “improving symptoms” refers to an individual’s overall sense of feeling better and the ability to resume activities; it does not focus on any particular symptom nor combination of symptoms – with the exception of a fever, since fever can correspond with a person’s level of infectiousness – given that symptoms can last (e.g., a lingering cough) beyond when someone is infectious. In practice, depending on how long symptoms last, this new quarantine period may be longer than that recommended under the CDC’s previous COVID-19 guidance. Notably, this inquiry turns on symptoms and not on the results of any tests for these viruses, which may not be available or practical for many. 

As with prior guidance, the CDC still encourages post-quarantine precaution and prevention measures since some people may still be contagious beyond the quarantine period. Under the current guidance, the CDC recommends employing the following precautions for five days after the quarantine period: 

  • Enhancing hygiene practices (e.g., handwashing, hand sanitizing, frequent cleaning of touches surfaces and covering coughs and sneezes); 
  • Wearing a mask, social distancing and testing for any virus; and
  • Taking steps for cleaner air (e.g., air purifying, bringing fresh outdoor air inside, gathering outdoors). 

Staying up to date on vaccinations for COVID-19, RSV and the flu remains a general preventative measure to protect and fight against serious respiratory illnesses.  For COVID-19 and the flu, vaccines can cut the risk of severe disease in half. According to the CDC, over 95% of hospitalized adults were not up to date with their COVID-19 vaccine in fall 2023. 

What does this new guidance mean for employers? 

The end of the Federal COVID-19 Public Health Emergency on May 11, 2023 left many employers wondering what, if any, measures they were required to take in response to workers diagnosed with COVID-19. While the new guidance provides some clarity on when employees with COVID and other respiratory viruses can return to work, employers will continue to grapple with certain COVID-related issues in the workplace.  Such issues may include managing employees’ requests for time off when experiencing active symptoms of a respiratory virus and requests for accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act and analogous state laws to accommodate potential lingering health concerns from these viruses.  Employers best prepared to navigate these issues are those that have reviewed and revised, as needed, any applicable sick and other leave policies and any policies concerning accommodations for employees with a qualified disability.  From a prevention perspective, and to the extent practicable, employers can also help stop the spread of respiratory viruses among their workforce by employing preventative measures in the workplace, such as installing hand sanitizing stations in high traffic areas, providing masks for those who wish to use them, and ensuring common areas and common surfaces are regularly cleaned and disinfected. 

Employers must also be aware of other federal and state-specific guidance related to COVID-19.  For example, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued guidance in 2021 on mitigating and preventing the spread of COVID in the workplace heavily citing the CDC’s then-current guidance, which OSHA has not updated since. Whether OSHA plans to update its guidance – which is “advisory in nature and informational in content” – to align with the CDC’s 2024 approach is not known. In the meantime, employers should prioritize the CDC’s guidance with respect to COVID-19 and endeavor to keep their workplaces free from occupational hazards as OSHA generally mandates. 

In New York State, the COVID-19 Sick Leave Law (NY COVID Leave Law) that went into effect in 2020, has also yet to be rolled back or modified.  The NY COVID Leave Law requires employers to provide sick leave (paid in certain circumstances) to employees who have been subject to mandatory or precautionary COVID quarantine or isolation orders. While New York employers must continue to comply with this law for now, change may be on the horizon.  In light of the updated CDC guidance, New York Governor Kathy Hochul recently proposed to end the NY COVID Leave Law as of July 31, 2024 in New York State’s 2025 Executive Budget Proposal. 

The Mintz Employment team will continue to monitor this proposal, provide updates on any developments, and stands ready to assist employers with best practices for navigating COVID (and other conditions) in the workplace.

Subscribe To Viewpoints


Andrew is a seasoned transactional attorney who advises public and private companies, as well as C-Suite and business executives, on a broad range of sophisticated compensation matters.
Kathryn Droumbakis is a Mintz Associate who litigates employment disputes before state and federal courts and administrative agencies and counsels clients on compliance with employment laws. She also has experience with complex commercial, professional liability, and real estate litigation.