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After testing negative, can my exposed employee return to work?

By The HR Team at East Coast Risk Management

Question: If an employee is exposed to someone with COVID-19 and tests negative for the virus, can they return to work?

COVID-19 Testing

Answer: No. First, we must determine if the individual has had close contact (i.e. been exposed) to someone with COVID symptoms or to someone who has tested positive. There are two situations when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”) will consider an individual to have been exposed to COVID. Those are where they are within 6 feet for a total of 15 minutes to a person:  (1) with COVID-19 who has symptoms (in the period from 2 days before symptom onset until they meet criteria for discontinuing home isolation; can be laboratory-confirmed or a clinically compatible illness); or (2) who has tested positive for COVID-19 (laboratory confirmed), but has not had any symptoms (in the 2 days before the date of specimen collection until they meet criteria for discontinuing home isolation). Please note that exposure will be determined regardless of whether the person with COVID-19 or the contact was wearing a mask or whether the contact was wearing respiratory personal protective equipment (PPE).

After an exposure, the individual should quarantine for 14 days after the last exposure. Quarantine is defined as separating and restricting the movement of people who were exposed to a contagious disease to see if they become sick. This is usually done in the person’s home. If symptoms develop during this 14-day quarantine, the person should then isolate until they meet the criteria to discontinue home isolation.  Isolation is defined as separating sick people with a contagious disease from people who are not sick and is more strict than a quarantine. This includes isolating the person from others in their household that are not sick.

Since research has shown that someone exposed to COVID can take up to 14 days to develop symptoms, producing a negative test after exposure does not mean the person does not have COVID.  The negative test means that the person does not have COVID at the time of the test.  For that reason, an employee should not be returned to work after an exposure, even with a negative COVID test, until: (1) they have quarantined for the full 14 days from their last exposure, and (2)  have not developed symptoms during that time.

If you are an employer with questions about anything relating to human resources, safety, or workers’ compensation, contact East Coast Risk Management by calling 724-864-8745 or emailing us at

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