By Rauchell Beckford-Anderson & Cindy M. Cieslak
Over the past few weeks, there have been several orders and other guidance issued by federal and state agencies regarding best practices for employers to protect employees during the COVID-19 pandemic, which are summarized here.
In response to recent studies, the Center for Disease Control (“CDC”), recently announced its recommendation of wearing face covering when in public. In addition to the CDC's recommendation, other agencies have recommended that employers permit (and in some cases provide) face coverings for employees, which are summarized herein.
In an effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the CDC now recommends that everyone, with few exceptions (such as infants under the age of two and anyone who has trouble breathing, is unconscious, incapacitated, or unable to remove a mask without help), wear a cloth face covering when in public settings where it is difficult to maintain other social distancing measures, and especially in areas of significant community-based transmission.
It is important to note that the recommendation that everyone cover their face is meant to protect others in case they are infected. Some individuals with coronavirus are asymptomatic, meaning they lack symptoms and can transmit the virus to others without showing any signs. While the CDC now recommends wearing a cloth face covering, this is not a substitute for maintaining 6 feet between yourself and others. As such, it is recommended that everyone continue to maintain 6 feet distance from others, in addition to wearing a cloth type face cover when around others.
Connecticut Safe Workplace Rules for Essential Workers
While some essential workers have the ability to work from home, others are required to work from their office or actual required workplace location. With this comes the possibility of employees contracting the virus through exposure. Below is a summary of Connecticut's safe workplace rules for essential workers, to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. These rules are generally consistent with guidance from the CDC and the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA). It is recommended that:
- All employees wear a facemask at all times while at work. Employers can either provide their employees with facemasks or approve employee supplied cloth face covering if there is a shortage. It is important to note that these face coverings must comply with all workplace safety requirements.
- Control visitor access by prohibiting non-essential visitors, interviewing approved visitors about recent travel and their health conditions, and using hand sanitizers at points of entry when available.
- Control contact between employees and other employees or customers by:
- avoiding in-person meetings
- discouraging carpools among your employees
- increase physical space between your employees and customers
- where practicable, deliver services remotely
- stagger shifts or move 1 or 2 shifts to 3 shifts, if possible, while keeping the same employees on the same shift each day
- where possible, provide time between shifts to allow time for cleaning and to minimize overlap
- close or restrict break rooms and cafeteria where possible or stagger break times to limit the number of employees congregating at the same time and provide hand sanitizer and/or disposable wipes
- where possible reduce common touch points by leaving doors open
- where possible, prohibit employees from using other employees' phones, desks, offices, equipment and work tools
- at the beginning and end of their shifts, employees should clean their personal work space
- follow CDC's cleaning and disinfecting guidelines if an employee contracts COVID-19 or is suspected of contracting the virus
- essential employees should take their temperature every day before going to work and should stay home if their temperature is above 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit
- provide access to hand sanitizers and posters that encourage proper hand hygiene
- clean bathrooms at least every two days
- provide your employees with an adequate supply of PPE items such as gloves, masks, hand sanitizer, soap or water.
All these provisions, and more, may be found at https://portal.ct.gov/DECD/Content/Coronavirus-Business-Recovery/Safe-Workplace-Rules-for-Essential-Employers. Unless otherwise modified, these provisions remain in place until May 20.
New York State Executive Order re: Face Coverings
Per Governor Cuomo's Executive Order issued on April 12, 2020, beginning on April 15, 2020, all essential businesses or entities in the State of New York are required to provide masks or other face coverings (free of charge) to employees who are in direct contact with customers or members of the public. This directive will be in place until May 12, unless modified.
Additional Guidance for Food Services from the Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”)
The FDA provided best practices to operate retail food stores, restaurants, and associated pick-up and delivery services during the COVID-19 pandemic to safeguard workers and consumers. This includes considerations for safely handling and delivering food to the public, in addition to best practices for employees' health.
- Employees should wear a mask or face covering, in addition to practicing social distancing and stay at least 6 feet from others when possible.
- Employees on farms, in food production, processing and retail settings who do not normally wear mask in the workplace should consider the following when wearing a cloth mask:
- Maintain face coverings in accordance with FDA's Model Food Code sections 4-801.11 Clean Linens and 4.802.11 Specifications.
- Wash reusable face coverings daily.
- FDA's Food Code recommendation for hand washing and the use of gloves in food service and retail food stores remain in place.
- Employees may not contact exposed, ready to eat foods with bare hands, and shall use acceptable utensils such as tongs, single use gloves, spatulas, and deli tissues.
- If you are required to make direct contact with ready to eat foods, employees should wash their hands and the portions of their arms being exposed for 20 seconds before touching the food or prior to donning gloves. Immediately after removing gloves, employees should wash their hands.
The agencies identified herein are constantly updating their recommendations. If FDA recommendations regarding employee health and COVID-19 differ from CDC's, follow CDC. Follow FDA and CDC information on Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).
Package Delivery Employees
OSHA recently issued guidance for package delivery employees, and it is our recommendation that the guidelines be applied to any delivery personnel.
- Permit employees to wear masks/face coverings and/or gloves, and in some jurisdictions, employers are obligated to provide face coverings (see above).
- Provide all delivery workers with flexible work hours, for example staggering shifts where feasible, and minimize interactions between drivers and customers by leaving deliveries at loading docks, doorsteps or other locations that don't require person-to-person contact.
- Provide workers with alcohol-based hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol, if they don't have access to soap and water to wash their hands.
- Provide disinfectant sprays and wipes for workers to clean their work surfaces, including vehicle interiors.
These are just some of the best practices for employers to implement among a wealth of information currently available. If you are an employer that has any questions or concerns about compliance with federal or state law during the COVID-19 pandemic, Rose Kallor, LLP provides a full range of legal counseling to private and public-sector employers. Please contact us with any COVID-19-related issues you face or anticipate facing, and we will be happy to assist you.