CDC Issues Interim Reopening Guidance for Employers of High Risk Employees, As Well As Industry-Specific Recommendations


The Centers for Disease Control has issued a lengthy document in support of the President’s Plan for Opening America Up Again, containing specific Interim Guidance documents for employers with high-risk workers, as well as for child care programs, schools, bars and restaurants, and mass transit. While all the guidance documents share extensive basic recommendations, they also provide more targeted advice by industry. These guidance documents may be found at Appendix F of the document, and we focus below on the guidance for employers of workers at higher risk of severe illness (meaning those over 65 years old and those with underlying medical conditions). Although this guidance ostensibly targets high-risk workers, it provides suggestions generally applicable to all employees.

The high-risk worker guidance sets forth a gradual three-step process for scaling up operations across all industries, noting that certain industries may require more stringent precautions while other essential businesses may not be able to implement the recommendations. The guidance also states that high-risk workers should be encouraged to self-identify, and employers should take particular care to reduce the exposure to COVID while complying with the Age Discrimination in Employment Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act. In addition, the CDC cautions that all decisions about its recommendations should be made in consultation with local health officials.

Scaling Up – In all Steps:

  • Establish and maintain communication with local and State authorities to determine current mitigation levels in your community.
  • Protect employees at higher risk for severe illness by supporting and encouraging options to telework.
  • Consider offering workers at higher risk duties that minimize their contact with customers and other employees (e.g., restocking shelves rather than working as a cashier), if agreed to by the worker.
  • Encourage any other entities sharing the same workspace to also follow this guidance.
  • Provide employees from higher transmission areas (earlier Step areas) telework and other options as feasible to eliminate travel to workplaces in lower transmission (later Step) areas and vice versa.

Step 1: Scale up only if business can ensure strict social distancing, proper cleaning and disinfecting requirements, and protection of their workers and customers; workers at higher risk for severe illness are recommended to shelter in place.

Step 2: Scale up only if business can ensure moderate social distancing, proper cleaning and

disinfecting requirements, and protection of their workers and customers; workers at higher risk for

severe illness are recommended to shelter in place.

Step 3: Scale up only if business can ensure limited social distancing, proper cleaning and disinfecting requirements, and protection of their workers and customers.

For all steps, the CDC also recommends certain categories of actions, providing specific recommendations as to each:

Safety Action:

  • Promote healthy hygiene practices, such as handwashing and the use of face coverings where feasible, as well as the posting of signs on how to stop the spread of infection.
  • Intensify cleaning, disinfection and ventilation, particularly of frequent touchpoints and shared items, using appropriate disinfectants. Increase circulation of outdoor air as much as possible, unless doing so poses a safety risk. Water systems should be inspected following prolonged disuse.
  • Promote social distancing. The CDC’s recommendations include installing barriers and reconfiguring workspaces, closing communal areas, encouraging telework, staggering or rotating shifts, teleconferencing, cancelling group events of more than 10 people at step 1 and 50 people at step 2, and restricting (step 1) or limiting (step 2) non-essential third party access.
  • Limit travel and modify commuting practices.

Monitoring and Preparing:

  • Screen employees for signs and symptoms of COVID-19, including temperature checks, in accordance with privacy laws and regulations.
  • Plan for when an employee becomes sick at work, by isolating and sending those with symptoms home, notifying local health officials and those who were potentially exposed, requiring self-quarantine for confirmed exposure and infections, conducting cleaning and disinfection of areas of exposure.
  • Maintain healthy operations by implementing flexible leave and telework policies, training backup staff, designating staff person to respond to COVID-19 concerns, and establishing systems for communicating with employees.


  • Monitor state and local health department notices, and be prepared to close if necessary due to COVID-19 in the workplace or an increase of cases in the community.

While this information is useful generally, we note that each industry will have specific issues that must be addressed. As noted above, the CDC has issued some industry-specific guidance. Other agencies at the state level are also poised to provide targeted guidance by industry. Employers should keep monitoring developments at the federal and state level for updated guidance relevant to them.