Back to the May-Jun 2020 issue

Can the City Quarantine an Employee Exposed to COVID-19?

Human resources

Q: Can the city quarantine an employee who was in contact with someone who is awaiting COVID-19 test results?

LMC: Generally speaking, the city would want to rely on a medical provider to classify whether an employee should be quarantined. Under state health law, if an employee has contracted or been exposed to COVID-19, the Minnesota Depart­ment of Health can recommend that the employee isolate him-or herself. Employees who are diagnosed with COVID-19 should follow guidance from public health officials and their doctor before being released from isolation and returning to work.

Illustration. Employee contact and COVID-19.Employers are required by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to keep their workplaces safe, and the U.S Department of Labor states an employer may encourage or require employees to telework as an infection-control or pre­vention strategy. However, when doing this, the employer must make sure not to single out employees on a basis prohibited by any of the Equal Opportunity Employment laws.

In the absence of an order by a health care provider to self-quarantine, and in the event the position is not one that can work remotely, employers should encourage employees who are ill or exposed to ill family members to stay home. Employers should also consider flexible leave policies for their employees in these circumstances, and review federal guidance to determine whether employees would qualify for emergency paid sick leave (under the Families First Coronavi­rus Response Act) or for unemployment. Also, it’s important to note that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued different guidance for certain critical employees exposed to COVID-19.

For more information about employee issues during the COVID-19 pandemic, visit and

Answered by Human Resources Director Laura Kushner:

Law enforcement

Q: May our police officers search mobile phones for evidence that drivers violated the “hands-free law”?

LMC: No. But until 2014, this answer was ambiguous. Police may search suspects and the area immediately around them during an arrest to ensure officer safety or preserve evidence. Histor­ically, this type of search included mobile phones. In a landmark 2014 case, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that data from mobile phones is off-limits without a search warrant or urgent circumstances. The court found that data would normally pose no danger to officers.

Illustration. Mobile phone and hands-free law.The current law allows officers to take phones to preserve evidence until they can get a warrant for the contents, but offi­cers cannot immediately search the data. The reason for this limit on police power is that the amount of private information a person is carrying around with them is vast and revealing. Therefore, searches of this data are considered too intrusive without probable cause.

The relevancy of this ruling is heightened in the context of Minnesota’s new “hands-free law” — making it illegal to hold a cell phone while driving — because an officer is not allowed to search phones for proof of the violation unless the driver con­sents to a search. However, it is likely that the factors that lead the officer to stop the vehicle will provide probable cause for a warrant, which will allow police to acquire a warrant to search the phone for proof of the violation of the hands-free law.

Answered by Law Clerk Joline Zepcevski:

Photo. Fastening a seatbeltSafety

Q: Do public works employees need to wear seat belts when operating city vehicles, even if they frequently enter and exit the truck?

LMC: It is a good policy to always require seat belts. These policies promote a city culture of safety. It’s also the law. Minnesota Statutes, section 169.686, subdivision 2 has only a very narrow exception for seat belt use. For example, employees can obtain a doctor’s note. Some employees driving at less than 25 miles per hour and making frequent stops may also be exempted. However, city policy can override this exemption for its employees.

Answered by Loss Control Manager Rachel Carlson: