Recently, the state of California issued a handbook for businesses planning to reopen under the threat of the current COVID-19 epidemic. And other states and the federal government have issued guidance for businesses responding to the coronavirus disease. For businesses staying open or considering reopening, these guidelines can prove quite useful.
For those businesses considering reopening, California has provided what it calls a playbook for a safe reopening. The book guides employers in the form of industry-specific guidance and checklists that should be consulted according to what industry your business belongs. The list of specific industries includes agriculture & livestock, auto dealerships, childcare, communications, infrastructure, construction, day camps, delivery services, energy & utilities, family friendly practices for employers, food packing, hotels & lodging, life sciences, limited services, logistics & warehousing, facilities, manufacturing mining & logging, music film & TV production, office workspaces, outdoor museums, place of worship & cultural ceremonies, ports, professional sports (without live audiences), public transit & intercity passenger rail, real estate transaction, retail, schools, support for working families, shopping centers, take-out restaurants, and youth sports. Employers should check the list of specific industries for advice specific to their industry.
Consulting an industry-specific plan is first on California’s list of what an employer should do to prepare to reopen. The entire list follows. “All employers must implement (and update as necessary) a plan that:
- Is specific to your workplace,
- Identifies all areas and job tasks with potential exposures to COVID-19,
- Includes control measures to eliminate or reduce such exposures,
- Maintains healthy business operations,
- Maintains a healthy work environment,
- Provides effective training for workers, and
- Encourages workers to give input into an effective workplace plan.”
Employers are encouraged to talk with their employees and seek their input regarding implementing a reopening plan. Employees can help employers identify areas of potential exposure to COVID-19, for example, and otherwise help carry out the plan.
Under California’s guidebook, “Before reopening, all facilities must:
1. Perform a detailed risk assessment and create a work site-specific
COVID-19 prevention plan
2. Train workers on how to limit the spread of COVID-19. This includes how
to screen themselves for symptoms and when to stay home
3. Set up individual control measures and screenings
4. Put disinfection protocols in place
5. Establish physical distancing guidelines
6. Establish universal face covering requirements (with allowed
exceptions) in accordance with [California Department of Public Health (CDPH)] guidelines.”
Additionally, the playbook recommends following mask guidelines. The CDPH has issued guidance on face coverings that employers can follow.
The California playbook emphasizes worker training as part of a reopening process for employers. For example, it mandates that employers “Designate a workplace infection prevention coordinator (to the extent one has not already been designated) to implement COVID-19 infection prevention procedures and to manage COVID-related issues among workers.” Such a coordinator will need to be trained as to their duties, which may include screening workers daily for temperature and other COVID symptoms while maintaining privacy. The playbook also contains advice for “private employers with fewer than 500 workers.” The “federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act requires such employers to provide up to 80 hours of paid leave to workers for COVID-19-related reasons.” Such employers are required to provide notice to employees of their coverage under the law. There is also guidance for “employers with 500 or more workers in the food sector.” An executive order from California’s “requires certain employers to provide paid sick leave to food sector workers. Covered employers must provide notice to their workers of this benefit.”
Employers are also directed to work with their local health departments (LHDs) in developing a reopening plan and in contact tracing should a worker develop COVID symptoms or test positive. Furthermore, “Employers must make every effort to maintain the confidentiality of workers with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 infection when communicating with other workers.” This will mean a private area for testing and communication with individual workers. This area can be used to “provide any workers who are sent home before or during a shift with information about what to expect after they are sent home (e.g., instructions to contact their medical provider or LHD about testing, and information regarding sick leave rights under federal, state, and local laws and company policies, return-to-work requirements).”
If a worker tests positive, their work area will need to be cleaned using products approved for use against COVID-19. This is another area in which worker training will matter. Workers will need to be trained on cleaning techniques to ensure that the infected worker’s workspace is properly wiped down. The LHD can provide guidance.
If COVID-19 comes to the workplace the CDPH has provided guidance on how to deal with it. The playbook provides checklists as well on how to deal with an outbreak at the workplace.
The state of Pennsylvania has provided a COVID-19 Guidance for Businesses that offers businesses help in dealing with the coronavirus in the workplace. “Pennsylvania’s plan for reopening has three phrases: red, yellow, and green.” Employers can check a link at the above URL to see by county what phase they are in. However, “In all phases, we must:
- Wear masks in public.
- Keep our physical distance of six feet or more.
- Wash our hands frequently for at least 20 seconds.
- Clean and disinfect surfaces often.
- Limit group gatherings and crowds.”
Under Minnesota’s reopening guidelines, “Restaurants and bars can reopen for indoor service as long as they:
- Have adopted and implemented a COVID-19 Preparedness Plan
- Ensure a minimum of 6 feet of distance between tables
- Limit indoor occupant capacity to no more than 50% up to 250 persons
- Do not exceed 250 persons in outdoor spaces
- Limit table service to 4 persons, or 6 if part of one family unit
- Require reservations
- Require workers to wear masks at all times and strongly encourage customers to wear masks when not eating or drinking”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued an Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers Responding to Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). Like the California playbook, the CDC recommends “All employers should implement and update as necessary a plan that:
Is specific to your workplace,
identifies all areas and job tasks with potential exposures to COVID-19, and
includes control measures to eliminate or reduce such exposures.”
Under both the California and CDC guidance, a reopening plan should be specific to the workplace in question and include a plan for eliminating potential exposure to COVID-19. Employers looking to reopen should therefore consider a site-specific and work-category specific plan for reducing the risk of exposure to COVID-19. There should also be a workplace infection prevention coordinator who will handle communications with staff and the countermeasures to be taken. This employee will need training, perhaps in coordination with the LHD, to carry out their tasks.
California, as is typical with the state, is in the forefront of employer guidance. It has issued a playbook for reopening that employers in other states may want to consult. Moreover, other states and the CDC have issued guidelines for employers wishing to reopen. These guidelines are being updated and should be checked periodically. Following these guidelines, businesses may successfully reopen.