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May 4, 2020

More Questions To Consider As The Economy Reopens

As more states reopen their economies, the U.S. Department of Labor will host a national online dialogue to solicit ideas for how to keep America’s workplaces safe. The dialogue will run through Thursday, May 7, 2020 and will consider six topics: reopening businesses; commuting safely; working safely; accommodating members of vulnerable populations; supporting America’s families; and reducing regulatory burdens. Visit https://OpeningWorkplaces.ideascale.com to register.

Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has released new reopening guidance for businesses. The CDC webpage and its accompanying printout documents provide a general framework for cleaning and disinfection practices. This new guidance underscores the importance of the development, maintenance and constant reevaluation of cleaning and disinfection plans for businesses, workplaces and facilities.

As Connecting the Dots noted last week, the law firm Kelley-Drye, recommends that employers “should be developing a careful, considered plan to bring their workforces back.” Specifically, recommends companies:

  • Consider a phased approach. Bring back employees in small groups or “waves” to minimize the risk of infection. This could include alternating when employees can come in, redesigning open floor plans temporarily to allow employees to spread out, or installing partitions between workspaces.
  • Consider temperature checks. The U.S. Equal Opportunity Employment Commission has authorized temperature checks at work. Three points to consider, however: do not attempt to obtain more information than is necessary (employers do not need a full medical history); continue to keep all information private (conduct screenings outside of view of others); and remember that a temperature check reveals someone’s temperature, not the presence of a virus. Send employees with temperatures home and tell them to seek a medical diagnosis.
  • Consider waiting. Employers should take caution in opening their offices at a time when the outbreak is still at an all-time high and remember that short-term economic gains can easily be lost if, longer-term, renewed COVID-19 transmissions puts half of a workforce in quarantine.

Another questions for businesses will be how to help employees who also might have difficulty finding childcare. Workers who have to stay home to care for dependents might be entitled to up to 10 weeks of paid leave, and the costs of paying these employees are reimbursable. (Click here for information on paid leave requirements and reimbursement), but what are employers supposed to do in the meantime? A panel of experts discuss options in this Inc. magazine webinar.

Temperature screening also is something businesses are likely to be asked to carry out as the economy reopens. Bloomberg Law reviews the risks. Click here to read the article. As a reminder, recent Equal Employment Opportunity Commission guidance says “employers may choose to administer COVID-19 testing to employees before they enter the workplace to determine if they have the virus” since “an individual with the virus will pose a direct threat to the health of others.” Click here to read that guidance.

Other resources that might be of interest to companies contemplating these questions include:

  • Federal Emergency Management Agency guidance on personal protective equipment.
  • This National Association of Manufacturers’ webinar, which outlines best practices for preparing operations for a return to work, as well as what companies can do to ensure employees are confident that facilities are safe and ready for business.
  • NAM’s proposals for protecting employers from liability for COVID-19-related lawsuits.