In this blog post, we continue to address some common questions about returning to the worksite and protecting employees from COVID-19.
What are employers’ obligations to keep employees in the workplace safe from COVID-19?
Businesses and employers should follow the guidelines published by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as well as state and local health departments in response to COVID-19. The NYS Department of Health (DOH) and New Jersey DOH, among others, have issued their own sets of guidelines to keep workplaces safe for employees and the public.
Moreover, businesses in NYS should be aware that, as the State permits the phased reopening of businesses, it has issued industry-specific guidance and checklists for employers to protect their employees and the public. NJ’s Governor Murphy announced a multi-stage plan to reopen its economy with blueprint of what types of businesses can start to reopen and precautions that must be taken.
The federal and state guidelines include the following recommendations, among others:
Employers should frequently check the OSHA, CDC, and state and local websites, as they issue additional requirements and recommendations for businesses in response to COVID-19.
Do I have to hire buses, vans, or cars so employees can avoid taking public transportation?
There is no federal, state, or local mandate that imposes this requirement yet. However, providing transportation may be a reasonable accommodation for an employee who would otherwise be unable to work, or reach the worksite, for reasons related to COVID-19. Whether such a request would be reasonable or impose an undue hardship on employers may depend on the size of the employer and the number of employees requiring such an accommodation.
Employers who choose to provide private transportation services as an accommodation should be mindful to create a standard policy as to who would be eligible and take care not to run afoul of discrimination laws.
Should employers stagger office hours or start gradually phasing employees into the workplace?
Generally, yes. The CDC has recently provided guidance suggesting that when businesses are ready to open, they should do so in phases. The guidance provides specific guidelines for social distancing, hygiene, and monitoring for childcare programs, schools and day camps, and restaurants and bars. Employers are encouraged to bring their employees back into the workplace in phases and modify work schedules to limit employees’ interactions and exposure to one another.
NYS and NJ also recommend phasing in employees and staggering work schedules. NYS and NJ have also recommended, and in some cases required, that employers sanitize the workplace daily, in-between shifts, or as frequently as possible; cross train employees when employees who are needed in the office cannot yet physically return to work; allow workers who can telework or are clinically high-risk individuals to continue to work remotely; limit in-person gatherings and meetings as much as possible by using other virtual alternatives, such as tele- or video-conferencing; and minimize the onsite workforce to those positions that are more crucial to their businesses or are urgently needed in the workplace. Additional and more detailed mandated and recommended guidelines have been issued for industries in New York and New Jersey to consider when to phase in or stagger work hours.
If you have any questions or concerns regarding issues to consider for post-COVID-19 return to work, please contact Chaim Book at firstname.lastname@example.org, Sheryl Galler at email@example.com, Lianne Forman at firstname.lastname@example.org, Chris Neff at email@example.com, or Jennifer Kim at firstname.lastname@example.org.