Recently, the CEO of Twitter announced that his workers could continue to work from home forever. Twitter is an outlier, however, as many businesses are looking to reopen or simply do not have the option that a tech company has regarding working from home. In this time of uncertainty, many employers are wondering when and how they will be able to return to some kind of normality. Moreover, the different states are implementing different reopening plans, so reopening depends on location. The White House has also issued its own guidelines, leaving employers with more than one set of guidelines to consider.
This report from CNN lists the reopening plans of each state, and this article by Business Insider includes a map. The White House’s reopening guidelines include information for employers. Specifically, employers should:
Develop and implement appropriate policies, in accordance with Federal, State, and local regulations and guidance, and informed by industry best practices, regarding:
Social distancing and protective equipment
Use and disinfection of common and high-traffic areas
Further, employers should “Monitor workforce for indicative symptoms. Do not allow symptomatic people to physically return to work until cleared by a medical provider.” Clearly, this means taking temperatures at work. Employers should provide themselves with the means to take employee temperatures.
The White House guidelines also propose phases in returning to work, with phase one recommendations being:
Continue to ENCOURAGE TELEWORK, whenever possible and feasible with business operations.
If possible, RETURN TO WORK IN PHASES.
Close COMMON AREAS where personnel are likely to congregate and interact, or enforce strict social distancing protocols.
Minimize NON-ESSENTIAL TRAVEL and adhere to CDC guidelines regarding isolation following travel.
Strongly consider SPECIAL ACCOMMODATIONS for personnel who are members of a VULNERABLE POPULATION.
Enforcing social distancing at work may require some changes to the work environment so that workers can remain six feet apart. For some employers, this may not be a big hurdle, but for others it will be. The same is true for closing common areas. Special accommodations, such as isolated areas, can likewise involve some changes to the work environment.
Phase Two is like phase one, except all are expected to have returned to work, ending the phase-in portion of the recommendations. In phase two, the following employers can reopen according to listed guidelines:
SCHOOLS AND ORGANIZED YOUTH ACTIVITIES (e.g., daycare, camp) can reopen.
VISITS TO SENIOR CARE FACILITIES AND HOSPITALS should be prohibited. Those who do interact with residents and patients must adhere to strict protocols regarding hygiene.
LARGE VENUES (e.g., sit-down dining, movie theaters, sporting venues, places of worship) can operate under moderate physical distancing protocols.
ELECTIVE SURGERIES can resume, as clinically appropriate, on an outpatient and in-patient basis at facilities that adhere to CMS guidelines.
GYMS can remain open if they adhere to strict physical distancing and sanitation protocols.
BARS may operate with diminished standing-room occupancy, where applicable and appropriate.
Notably lacking from the White House guidelines are specific dates for these phases of reopening. Currently, it appears that the dates remain to be announced. It can be inferred that there is no hurry to reopen, so businesses looking for more exact guidance may look to their state governments. The state guidelines, however, are not always specific as to dates either.
Let us start with the most populous state, California. The state government has issued a PDF offering guidance regarding the statewide stay-at-home order. The PDF lists six criteria for considering lifting the order. They are:
1: The ability to monitor and protect our communities through testing, contact tracing, isolating, and supporting those who are positive or exposed; 2 The ability to prevent infection in people who are at risk for more severe COVID-19; 3 The ability of the hospital and health systems to handle surges; 4 The ability to develop therapeutics to meet the demand; 5 The ability for businesses, schools, and child care facilities to support physical distancing; 6 The ability to determine when to reinstitute certain measures, such as the stay-at-home orders, if necessary
Clearly, with such rigorous criteria in place, California does not seem likely to reopen anytime soon. California employers should therefore plan on continuing their current regime, whether that is staying open as an essential business or staying closed.
In contrast to California, Texas has announced reopening plans. The governor has issued a statement outlining the procedure for reopening. In particular, “By way of Executive Order (GA-18), all retail stores, restaurants, movie theaters, and malls are permitted to reopen on Friday, May 1.” However, “These services must limit their capacity to 25% of their listed occupancy. Within shopping malls, the food-court dining areas, play areas, and interactive displays and settings must remain closed.” Moreover, “State libraries and museums will open by May 1, and local public museums and libraries may reopen only if permitted by the local government. Single-person offices may reopen as well.” The statement goes into further detail about the reopening and the specific rules by which businesses may reopen, but unlike the White House plan it lists a specific date for reopening.
Unlike Texas’s announcement, Florida’s guidelines are nonspecific. The state has published a PDF that lists some general guidelines for employers starting on page 12. The guidelines include social distancing, avoiding hugs and handshakes, maintenance of hygiene, making soap available, and not allowing symptomatic people to work.
New York has announced a phased reopening with two weeks between phases. It also plans to reopen by area, with different regions reopening at different times. The PDF that the state government has published is unclear as to dates. However, there are some general guidelines for businesses.
[B]usinesses will need to consider three main factors…..The first factor is protections for employees and customers…..The second is changes to the physical workspace….The last factor for businesses to consider is implementing processes that meet our changing public
For now, however, the document has this to say: “The hard truth is that we can’t just reopen New York the way it was, because the COVID-19 pandemic has fundamentally altered our state and our way of life. To simply reopen would mean trying to return to the old normal – a normal that no longer exists.”
Illinois has issued a five-phase reopening plan without specific dates. As the document indicates: “All public health criteria included in this document are subject to change. As research and data on this novel coronavirus continue to develop, this plan can and will be updated to reflect the latest science and data.” Reopening manufacturing and other businesses takes place in phase four, when “There is a continued decline in the rate of infection in new COVID-19 cases.”
Currently, Texas stands out among most states as having a specific reopening date. Other states have taken few steps toward limiting businesses or personal interaction. Yet other states still have some form of lockdown orders in place. Nationally, there is a plan for reopening, but specific dates are lacking. Employers should check their specific state’s guidelines and follow their plans, which generally include social distancing and hygiene practices, as well as sending symptomatic workers home.