The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) continues to release workplace re-opening guidance, both generally and for employers in specific industries. Employers executing or developing their re-opening plans should consider new guidance along with requirements and guidance at the state and local levels, and watch for continued developments – particularly by checking the CDC website on COVID-19, which is frequently updated.
The CDC recently updated its Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers Responding to Coronavirus Disease 2019 and released specific guidance for employers in office buildings. These documents emphasize the importance of planning. The plan should (1) be specific to the type of workplace; (2) identify all areas and job tasks with potential exposure to COVID-19; and (3) include control measures to eliminate or reduce such exposures. Applying this to office workplaces, locations with heightened risks of infection may include break rooms, common areas, meeting rooms, and routes of entry and exit.
CDC’s office guidance provides specific suggestions on a number of different actions that can be taken to mitigate against potential hazards, many of which are similar to prior CDC guidance but specifically applicable to the office setting. The key topics include:
- Engineering Controls:
- Modifying seats, furniture, and workstations to maintain social distancing of six feet.
- Using methods to physically separate employees such as signs, tape marks, and other visual cues.
- Taking steps to improve ventilation in the building, and considering the use of HEPA filtration systems.
- Operating exhaust fans at full capacity in restrooms while the building is occupied.
- Considering the use of ultraviolet germicidal irradiation.
- Administrative Controls
- Encouraging employees who are sick or who were exposed to COVID-19 to stay home.
- Considering a screening program before employees report to work each day, which could include in-person or “virtual health checks” (which could be a health questionnaire employees complete at home before reporting to work).
- Staggering shifts, start times, and break times.
- Posting signs asking guests and visitors to wear face coverings, stay out if they are sick, and practice social distancing.
- Cleaning and disinfecting high-touch surfaces.
- Practicing hand hygiene, including providing employees with adequate time to wash their hands and access to soap, clean water, and single use paper towels.
- Establishing social distancing policies and practices, including limiting elevator use and occupancy to maintain six-foot social distancing.
- Considering offering support to employees who commute on public transit, such as incentives to take other commuting options, or guidance on how to protect themselves while using transit.
- Posting signs and reminders on health and safety issues, such as hand hygiene, COVID-19 symptoms, and cough and sneeze etiquette.
- Using no-touch waste receptacles.
- Reminding employees to avoid touching their eyes, nose, and mouth.
- Requiring employees to wear cloth face coverings that cover their nose and mouth.
- Educating employees and supervisors on how to protect themselves and others.
The CDC has also released a detailed Resuming Business Toolkit. The toolkit describes an extensive step-by-step process that non-healthcare employers can use in deciding when they should re-open and how they should do it. This includes a checklist for determining readiness to re-open, a list of protective measures that can be selected based on the nature of the workplace, and health and safety information that can be shared with employees. The toolkit contains helpful links to prior CDC resources on topics such as COVID-19 symptoms, when an individual can discontinue isolation, and how to clean and disinfect a facility.
In addition to the above guidance, CDC and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OHSA) have also issued industry-specific guidance for employers in a number of different sectors, including:
- Manufacturing workers and employers
- Meat and poultry processing workers and employers
- Small businesses
- Restaurants and bars
- Childcare, schools, and youth programs
- Colleges, universities, and higher learning
- Correctional and detention facilities
- Parks and recreational facilities
- Community and faith-based organizations
- Retirement communities and independent living
Employers in these sectors should carefully review applicable guidance. Manufacturing employers and meat and poultry processing employers, in particular, should carefully review the CDC/OSHA guidance which identifies areas of heightened exposure risk.
In addition to guidance from CDC and OSHA, employers must also consider state and local requirements and guidance. Many states and localities require or encourage employers to comply with CDC and OSHA guidance, but some impose heightened requirements, such as limits on workplace occupancy; a requirement to provide face coverings to employees; mandatory screening of employees, including specific screening requirements; requirements applicable to visitors or customers; or to maintain cleaning logs.
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The legal and practical issues related to re-opening workplaces continue to rapidly evolve. All employers need to stay current on the laws and guidance applicable to their own workplaces, and should regularly check on federal, state, and local developments, including the CDC website on COVID-19, which is frequently updated. For more information regarding re-opening workplaces in light of COVID-19, or other employment law issues, please contact an author of this article or the Hogan Lovells lawyer with whom you work.