Governor Northam announced on May 4 that provisions of E.O. 53 that were to expire on May 7 have been extended to May 14. Beginning May 15, certain non-essential businesses that had been closed by E.O. 53 will be permitted to reopen under strict social distancing and disinfecting rules. E.O. 55, which is the stay-at-home order, and other aspects of E.O. 53, such as the prohibition on gatherings of more than ten, remain in effect until June 10.
Someday this, too, will pass. In a rush to revive their economies, several states have begun easing their COVID-19 restrictions. It is still unclear when restrictions will be lifted in Virginia. Currently, Executive Orders 53 and 55 are set to expire on June 10, though Governor Northam may extend them. As we are all eager to get back to work, businesses should plan now for how to reopen their businesses when that is permitted.
There are several practical and legal considerations for reopening your business:
- You need a coronavirus policy directing ill employees to stay home and addressing what to do with employees who have symptoms or have been exposed to COVID-19.
- Plan for how you will handle employees who refuse to return to work. Depending on their reasons for staying home, they may be entitled to legal protections.
- Familiarize yourself with the paid leave requirements of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. You’ll need to post that notice in your workplace.
- Consider the physical layout of your business. Where are employees likely to congregate? Where will they interface with your customers? How can you minimize the risk of infection in those places?
- Options to consider reducing the risk of infection at work:
-Require social distancing.
-Stagger work shifts to reduce the number of employees present at any one time.
-Restrict visitors’ entry.
-Limit the number of customers who can be present at any one time.
-Require some employees to work remotely.
-Consider implementing temperature checks before employees can enter the worksite. If you do this, plan carefully to minimize employees’ wait time and risk of close contact with others during the checks.
-Encourage masks and hand washing.
-Provide hand sanitizer.
-Discourage or prohibit travel.
-Discourage or prohibit equipment sharing.
-Sanitize all common items after use (e.g., copiers, phones).
-Close the employee break room and remove office coffee stations, water coolers, candy dishes, and other places where employees may congregate and share touch surfaces.
-Encourage employees to bring their lunch to work and eat separately.
-Limit in-person meetings and use video-conferencing and other technology instead, even when everyone is in the office.
- Document your disinfection procedures and other steps you take to reduce the risk of infection.
- Plan for how to respond if an employee tests positive.
-Facilitate contact tracing by documenting employees’ daily activities.
-You will need to notify those who came in contact with the infected person, but you should not reveal the infected person’s identity unless he or she consents.
-Be prepared to halt operations or move them to a remote location until the site has been disinfected.
Most importantly, when you are allowed to resume operations, it will be critical to adhere to guidance from the CDC, OSHA, and other government agencies. That will help protect your employees and also may provide a defense if someone asserts a claim against your business for COVID-19 exposure.
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