Employers Must Comply with Dozens of Mandatory Requirements As Offices Reopen

June 1, 2020

By: Kimberly Klein

New York State’s Department of Health (DOH) has issued dozens of mandatory requirements before a business can reopen and has recommended best practices (the “Guidelines”) in its May 28 interim guidance for offices reopening as part of Phase II of the State’s reopening plan. 

The Guidelines apply to businesses and entities in the professional services, nonprofit, technology, administrative support, and higher education administration sectors.  Businesses must affirm that they understand and will implement the Guidelines. 

The Guidelines list rules that employers must comply with for: 1) physical distancing; 2) protective equipment; 3) hygiene and cleaning; 4) communication; and 5) screening.  Employers may struggle implementing some of the mandates, as the Guidelines do not provide specifics for several requirements, such as training workers and screeners, posting obligations, and obtaining proper PPE.

Physical Distancing

Employers will be limited to 50 percent “maximum occupancy as set by the certificate of occupancy” at any one time and individuals must remain 6 feet apart.  Where social distancing is not possible, masks must be worn.  In addition, among other things, employers must:

  • limit use of tightly confined spaces, such as elevators, to one person at time, unless all individuals are wearing masks, and even then occupancy cannot be more than 50 percent;
  • post social distancing markers in commonly used areas;
  • clean shared workstations between users; and
  • take steps to reduce congestion by adjusting workplace hours and staggering arrival and departure times.

The Guidelines recommend closing common indoor or outdoor seating areas, such as lobby areas, or modifying seating to ensure individuals are at least six feet apart in all directions.  Likewise, in person gatherings, such as meetings, conferences, should be limited and video or teleconferencing used.  Where in person meetings are necessary, they should be held in open, well-ventilated spaces and individuals must maintain social distancing.  Non-essential amenities, such as vending machines and coffee machines, should be closed, and non-essential common areas, such as gyms and pools, must remain closed. 
Employers must ensure social distancing in small areas, such as restrooms and breakrooms and should develop signage and systems to restrict occupancy.

Protective Equipment

Employers are responsible for providing face coverings to employees, contractors and visitors, including replacement masks.  Workers and visitors must wear face covering in common areas, such as elevators, lobbies and hallways.
Employers must provide training to workers and contractors on how to put on and take off PPE.
Sharing of office supplies and equipment must be limited, unless employees wear gloves or wash their hands before and after contact.

Hygiene and Cleaning

The Guidance requires regular cleaning of the office, shared surfaces and equipment using Department of Environmental Conservation products.  Employers must adhere to hygiene, cleaning and disinfection standards set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and DOH and keep logs documenting cleaning efforts. 

In the event an individual is confirmed to have COVID-19, employers must clean and disinfect all exposed areas, including all heavy transit areas and high-touch surfaces, such as elevators, lobbies, building entrances, badge scanners, restrooms handrails, and door handles.  If affected areas can be closed off, employers do not need to close operations.

Shared food and beverages, such as buffet meals, are prohibited.

Communication

Employers are obligated to post signage inside and outside the office reminding personnel and customers to adhere to proper hygiene, social distancing rules, appropriate use of PPE, and cleaning and disinfecting protocols.  In addition, employers must “[t]rain all personnel on new protocols and frequently communicate safety guidelines.”  The Guidelines do not indicate that the State will provide signage or training tools. 

In addition, employers must establish a communication plan for employees and visitors to receive updated information.  Individuals who have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 must be contacted, and employers must notify state and local health departments. 

Safety plans must be completed and posted on site.  Employers must designate a safety monitor, who is responsible for ensuring the safety plan is implemented and abided by.  The DOH has published a safety plan template

Screening

Tenants are responsible for screening their own employees and visitors unless otherwise agreed to with the landlord.  Employers must implement a “mandatory health screening assessment” on a daily basis, such as a questionnaire or temperature checks, for employees, contractors and visitors.  Such screening must establish whether an individual had a positive COVID-19 test, had COVID-19 symptoms, and/or had close contact with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 case in the past 14 days. 

Employers must identify a point person who reviews the assessments daily and documents responses.  Such person should also be notified by employees and visitors if they experience COVID-19-related symptoms.  Employers should maintain a log of employees and visitors for contact tracing purposes.

On-site screeners must be trained and familiar with CDC, DOH and OSHA protocols.  Screeners must wear appropriate PPE, including a face-covering.  Screening can be performed remotely, including via electronic survey, prior to the worker coming to the office.

Workers who screen positive should be sent home and provided with instructions to contact their healthcare provider.  Employers must immediately notify the local health department and DOH about any positive case.

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Employers are required to continue to comply with guidance and directives issued by DOH and to stay current with any updates concerning the Guidelines.  New York City is set to enter Phase I of the reopening on June 8, 2020 and, depending on certain State metrics, could enter Phase II two weeks later.

Moses & Singer attorneys can help you navigate the Guidelines.  Please contact Kimberly Klein at 212-554-7853/kklein@mosessinger.com or another attorney in the firm’s Labor, Employment and Employee Benefits practice for further information.