Businesses around the country closed their physical doors abruptly weeks ago as state governors signed executive orders intended to stem the tide of new COVID-19 cases and save lives. Just recently, the first states to allow limited business openings have released guidelines for businesses to continue to reduce the spread of the virus when they reopen. These guidelines are a first look at the workplace hygiene rules that will apply to employers as businesses continue to reopen. Businesses that are planning ahead can be proactive by considering how they can implement these measures.
Several themes emerge when looking at the guidance that has been released by states so far. The first is social distancing. As expected, all of the states require businesses to implement some type of social distancing practices and procedures. For example, New York recommends that businesses ensure that workplaces are designed to include social distancing measures (e.g., desks six feet apart and conference rooms redesigned) and to allow telecommuting where it is possible. It also recommends that businesses implement measures designed to minimize contact with customers and provide employees who interact with the public with necessary protective equipment, such as gloves, masks, etc. New York’s guidelines also say that employers should ensure that employees have a means for safe transport to work (e.g., masks and gloves for public transit).
Similarly, South Carolina prohibits businesses from knowingly allowing non-family related customers, patrons, and other guests from congregating within six feet of one another, in addition to imposing customer occupancy limits not to exceed five customers per 1,000 square feet of retail space, or 20 percent of the occupancy limit as determined by the fire marshal, whichever is less. Georgia also requires businesses to increase the physical space between workers’ worksites to at least six feet and to provide workers with personal protective equipment that is available and appropriate to their function. Along the same lines, Georgia requires businesses that re-open to prohibit gatherings of workers during business hours; implement teleworking for all possible workers; hold remote meetings whenever possible; stagger shifts when possible; and prohibit handshaking and other unnecessary person-to-person contact.
The second theme is sanitation. Georgia’s Executive Order goes into detail. For example, employers should require hand washing and sanitation by workers at appropriate places within the business location; place notices that encourage hand hygiene at the entrance to the workplace and in other workplace areas where they are likely to be seen; and provide disinfectant and sanitation products for workers to clean their workspaces, equipment, and tools.
The third theme is employee screening and monitoring. New York and Georgia address screening and monitoring of employees for symptoms of COVID-19, and Georgia requires employees with symptoms not to report to work or to seek medical attention.
The fourth theme regards equipment. Georgia requires businesses to suspend the use of PIN pads and entry devices, electronic signature capture, and other credit card signature requirements. That said, the guidance allows the use of these features if required by the business’s agreements with payment card processors. Georgia also requires employers to discourage workers from using other workers’ phones, desks, offices, or other work tools and equipment.
Overall, while these early guidelines may differ in detail, themes appear. Specifically, social distancing, sanitation, employee screening, and minimizing equipment that is touched by multiple people. With these themes in mind, businesses can begin to consider how these measures would translate in their workplaces and start planning how they will open their doors again.