Reopening the Workplace

By Alicia Nesline Shaw, Attorney, Carlile Patchen & Murphy LLP

 

Columbus, Ohio, April 28, 2020 – It’s been nearly seven weeks since the State of Ohio “shut down.” Governor DeWine has declared that Ohio will be one of the “slow open” states. What does that mean exactly? Just yesterday, new guidelines for the State of Ohio have been issued. Those can be found at Sector Specific Operating Guidelines. For businesses that are permitted to reopen, there are specific practices to follow. However, there are practical considerations and steps businesses can take even if they are closed and not yet given the greenlight to reopen, in order to prepare for their own reopen.

1. As noted above, pay close attention to the guidance issued by the State of Ohio as it pertains to when and how businesses can reopen and operate. As non-essential businesses are permitted to open, the first step should be to carefully review any new orders of the Governor or the Department of Health. These orders will set the legal parameters by which a business can reopen during this time, and for those businesses that have not yet been addressed, it will provide valuable insight into the rules that will likely apply to those businesses set for later stages of the reopen.

2. The next step is for management to review and familiarize themselves with guidance issued by the following government agencies:

a. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) guidance can be found at OSHA Guidance;

b. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidance can be found at CDC Guidance; and

c. Guidance issued by applicable state and local health departments.

These are resources with the most up to date scientific information for employers and business owners operating in the COVID environment. By following the guidance issued by these entities in conjunction with the State’s orders, businesses reduce potential liability for operating in an unsafe manner and exposing employees and customers to increased risk of infection.

3. Business owners and management should also look to guidance from professional associations in their particular industry. For example, reopening a restaurant should look very different than the steps needed to reopen a clothing store. There are general principles involved that should be implemented for every business, as discussed below, but the specific policies and procedures will vary based on industry. Many trade associations and other professional resource associations are assisting their members with industry specific COVID safety measures.

4. As business owners recall employees from furlough, it’s best to give the recalled employees as much warning as possible, especially if they have children at home due to school closures. In addition, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act contains two very important paid leave laws that a reopened business may need to comply with on its first day of opening back up. A solid familiarity with those laws in advance of a reopen will limit the possibility that an employer will inadvertently be noncompliant. In addition, employers should have workplace policies ready in order to articulate exactly what will be expected of employees upon return, e.g., sanitizing workspaces, staying home when ill, etc.

5. In addition to the above, there are general considerations that will affect every workplace as the state “reopens.” They are: 1) physical distance; 2) keeping sick individuals (or suspected COVID-positive individuals) out of the workplace; and 3) sanitation.

a. Physical Distance – This can be accomplished in many ways depending on the particular industry. Perhaps it’s varying shifts in order to have fewer employees at the worksite, teleworking if possible, limiting the number of clients or customers that can be inside a business location, putting up temporary partitions between workspaces or between employees and the public, and closing spaces at the worksite where employees tend to gather in groups, such as the office kitchen. It is important to give employees and customers 6 feet of space when at all possible. In addition, businesses should make masks available to employees and customers as most will be required to wear face coverings at the workplace per order of the Governor.

b. Keeping sick individuals out of the worksite – This requires business owners to develop policies in accordance with CDC recommendations regarding taking employees’ temperatures or having them self-report, perhaps taking customers’ temperatures, mandating that sick employees stay home and providing flexible sick leave or telework options for those who believe they may be ill or someone they have been in close contact with is ill. In addition, employees who exhibit COVID symptoms should be kept out of the workplace in accordance with updated CDC guidance. At a minimum, employers should mandate that employees take their temperature before coming to work and at work once they arrive, in order to ensure that those who have a fever are kept out of the workplace.

c. Sanitation – Every workplace should be following increased sanitation and ventilation procedures. Cleaning and disinfecting workspaces frequently, not sharing equipment amongst employees unless it’s been disinfected between uses, and of course, maintaining availability of hand sanitizers and a reminder to use them. These are a few of the recommendations made by the CDC and are incorporated into Governor DeWine’s new orders for reopen. If someone is found to be symptomatic for COVID-19 at the workplace, their workspace should be isolated and exterior windows or doors should be opened, if possible, to increase ventilation, in addition to disinfecting the workspace in accordance with CDC guidelines. Any coworkers who have had recent and close contact with the employee should be notified of a positive COVID test (or symptoms) without divulging the identity of the individual, and the proper report should be made to the Ohio Department of Health per the updated guidelines.

The above are general considerations for any business owner to take when looking to either reopen or increase traffic at their place of business. Of course, any recommendation is subject to guidelines specifically issued by the State of Ohio and all business owners should keep themselves updated on specific recommendations for their industry.

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