Return to Work

Experiencing Symptoms? Have a close contact?

If an employee is experiencing symptoms, they should immediately test and isolate. If positive, follow Isolation recommendations.

If negative, an employee should remain isolated until:

No known close contact exposure in the prior 14 days:

  • No fever within the past 24 hours (without medication) and symptoms have improved or resolved
  • If symptoms continue, or initial negative test was an antigen test, they should remain isolated and retest at least 24 hours after the first test
  • Evaluate for alternate diagnoses

Known close contact exposure in the prior 14 days:

  • A home quarantine is recommended for those not up to date on vaccination or recovered from COVID-19 in the prior 90 days. See below for specifics.
  • If someone has ongoing symptoms but a negative test, retest again after at least 24 hours.
  • Remain masked for 10 days after the last exposure and while symptomatic.

If an employee is a close contact to a known COVID case, the response depends on vaccination status

  • If up to date on vaccinations, or has tested positive for COVID-19 in the past 90 days and recovered if the employee is asymptomatic, they may return to work masked at all times for 10 days. They should test and isolate if they develop symptoms.
  • In a maritime, crowded workplace, or congregate living workplace, if not up to date on vaccinations, or has not recovered from COVID-19 in the prior 90 days, 10 days at home with a test on day 5.
  • In a low-risk office based workplace, employees may follow this flowchart and this state guidance to help decide if a shorter quarantine period is acceptable.
  • Washington offers guidance for contingency measures to continue operations for maritime critical infrastructure vessels with modified quarantine options here.
  • Washington also describes “Enhanced Protective Measures” when community transmission is moderate or high or if a dangerous variant emerges that includes more stringent pre-embarkation quarantine, testing, and post-exposure quarantine recommendations.

Isolation is what should happen if someone tests positive for the disease.

Regardless of vaccination status, if an employee tests positive for COVID-19, they should isolate. 

Options to discontinue isolation and return to work can be found under the “return to work” section. The decision to use a shortened isolation period depends on the work environment and the ability for an employee to mask at all times at the worksite.

Employees should not travel until they complete at least a 10-day isolation period. CDC guidance for travel can be found here.

Quarantine after close contact

Quarantine is what should happen if someone has been exposed to another person with the disease.

Be aware of requirements to notify employees of a close contact exposure at the workplace.

Employees who have had a close contact should follow a quarantine strategy. A close contact is defined as:
  • A close contact is someone who was less than 6 feet away from an infected person (laboratory-confirmed or a clinical diagnosis) for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period. For example, three individual 5-minute exposures for a total of 15 minutes.
  • An employer may be more conservative in defining a close contact, for example people in a conference room with poor ventilation may be considered close contacts even if they were not within 6 feet of a positive case.

Quarantine strategies

  • Up to Date on vaccination or recovered from COVID-19 in the prior 90 days: employee may mask at all times at the workplace for 10 days. A more conservative quarantine may be recommended in times of high community transmission or a more transmissible variant. Refer to Enhanced Protective Measures. Contingency measures for critical infrastructure maritime workers are listed here.
  • Not up to date on vaccinations or not recovered from COVID-19 in the prior 90 days:
    • Non-maritime setting guidance is here.
    • Maritime guidance is here.
    • In a low risk setting, employee should quarantine at home for at least 5 days and mask around others at all times for 5 additional days. Test at day 5 and isolate if positive.
    • In a high-risk setting (vessel or high-density workplace setting), a shortened quarantine period is not advisable. A full 10 day quarantine is preferred with testing on day 5.

Any employee who develops symptoms during quarantine should test and isolate.

Reporting requirements to regulatory agencies

In the event of a positive case, an employer may have requirements for reporting and response. Each employer should be aware of their obligations under federal, state and county regulations, OSHA and L&I.

In Washington State, outbreaks in a maritime setting should be reported via this website. Non-maritime setting should refer to this guidance for reporting requirements.

Additional resources include:


Washington L&I

Washington DOH

King County

Snohomish County

Project Partners