Close Contact Redefined: Impacts on Hourly Workforce

November 30, 2020 - minute read

Employers have spent much of 2020 adapting to the risks and changing industry landscapes resulting from COVID-19. At this point in your business’s restructuring, things like social distancing and wearing masks probably feel like the new norm. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) continues to issue updates that redefine established pandemic practices—which means even your latest pandemic procedures need to be re-evaluated and regularly updated to remain effective.

Most recently, the CDC redefined “close contact” as it relates to social distancing and exposure to the virus. If you manage an hourly workforce, this change could directly affect your day-to-day operations and compliance, so it’s important to adapt quickly. Let’s take a look at close contact’s newest definition and how to respond.

New Definition of “Close Contact”

Social distancing is generally defined as the safe spacing (of at least 6 feet) between individuals meant to lower the risk of infectious disease exposure. With this in mind, there are some circumstances where an individual faces a greater risk of exposure. This is considered “close contact.”

Until recently, close contact was defined by the CDC as being within 6 feet of a COVID-positive individual for at least 15 consecutive minutes. Last month, however, this definition changed. The CDC’s latest revision now defines close contact as: anyone within 6 feet of an infected person for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period starting from 2 days before illness onset, or test collection, until the time the individual is isolated.

In addition, close contact may still occur even if an employee doesn’t fit these exact requirements and three individual exposures of five minutes each in a 24-hour period is still enough to equal close contact.

Next Steps for Employers

In light of this new definition, close contact just became a far greater concern for your operation—both in terms of risk levels, as well as its impact on compliant reporting procedures. It could end up impacting the total number of employees having to self-isolate in the months ahead, as well.

Here are a few tips for managing the CDC’s close contact revision in practice:

  • Update your employee handbook. When a new CDC definition emerges, it’s important that you adjust your employee handbook and reporting requirements to reflect them. Letting your employees know about the latest close contact conditions (including the circumstances and symptoms), will clarify your operation’s reporting process and boost overall success in reducing exposure to the virus.
  • Check your individual state requirements. Unfortunately, not every state follows the same close contact standards. The impact of individual state and local laws must be considered as you formulate your response to CDC updates. Pennsylvania, for example, defines close contact differently, fluctuating between 10 consecutive minutes and 15 consecutive minutes. Be clear on your state’s unique parameters before enforcing any updated policies.

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  • Structure your reporting requirements to ease operational burdens. According to Duane Morris, opting not to define close contact with a set distance or time frame could ease your overall reporting burden where close contact cases are concerned. Otherwise, you will likely will get more reports than the CDC requires of your workforce. If this becomes the case, consider working with a healthcare specialist or consulting an HR specialist to determine whether or not a report produces a viable risk.
  • Evaluate your COVID-19 protocols regularly. In light of ongoing changes to CDC guidance and federal, state and local legal orders, ensuring that your HR team and managers are informed is critical to seeing changes actually get carried out. Remind your employees of the importance of your established COVID-19 workplace safety measures, as well as how ongoing updates to operational procedures prevents COVID-19 exposure.

Monitoring Close Contacts with Workforce Management Technology

As COVID-19 standards evolve, so should your operating procedures and related HR technologies. After all, things like workplace monitoring and contact tracing for close contacts can be a lot to handle without the assistance of a workforce management solution.

At EPAY Systems, we offer a Human Capital Management system that’s built to adapt.

With tools like Dynamic Punch Questions, which enable you to ask customized questions during employees’ punch ins/punch outs, you can monitor close contact incidents and potential exposures within your workforce each day.

Check out our COVID-19 Resources Center for more information, or review our other close contact blog, “Contact Tracing & Employee Monitoring During COVID-19” for additional insight. Want to learn more about our workforce management technology? Take our 2-minute Tour and request a demo today.

Filed Under: Compliance COVID-19