Changes in the Office Mandated for Phase 2 Reopening

As cities and states across the U.S. begin phased reopening of businesses, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (“CDC”) issued guidance on recommended measures offices and office buildings should take to reopen safely. Although not mandatory, the CDC guidance is considered a best practices approach to maintain a safe and healthy workplace that allows for reopening while also mitigating the spread of COVID-19.

The CDC guidance contains an extensive list of recommended best practices for offices to reopen, including: inspecting and improving ventilation systems, conducting daily health checks for employees, conducting a hazard assessment of the workplace, encouraging employees to wear face coverings and masks while in the office, implementing policies and practices for social distancing in the office, encouraging sick workers to report their symptoms and stay home, closing or limiting the use of shared space, promoting flexible sick leave and alternative work schedules (i.e., staggered shifts, teleworking), cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces, and determining need for PPE and providing appropriate PPE to workers at no cost. [1]

On Friday, May 29, 2020, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced the Phase 2 reopening of several regions in New York State – Central New York, Finger Lakes, Mohawk Valley, North Country, and Southern Tier. Offices were given the green light to reopen, but with restrictions on operation and what workplace health and safety measures were necessary to reopen. The New York State Phase 2 guidelines are based largely on the CDC guidelines noted above, however, most of the measures are mandatory rather than “recommended” best practices. [2]

Some of the most notable Phase 2 mandatory guidelines for offices include:

  • Limiting the total number of occupants in the office to 50% of the maximum occupancy listed on the certificate of occupancy.

  • Requiring employees to wear face coverings/masks in common areas of the office (elevators, lobbies, when traveling around the office) and whenever social distancing cannot be maintained. Employees should always have masks ready with them to wear in the event someone unexpectedly comes within 6 feet of their space. Employers must provide their employees with appropriate face coverings/masks at no cost to the employee and also provide training on how to don, doff, clean, and discard the face coverings/masks.

  • Limiting in-person meetings and using alternative methods (i.e., video conferencing, telephone) whenever possible. If in-person meetings must occur, hold them in open and well-ventilated areas.

  • Discouraging the use of shared workstations. If workstations must be shared (i.e., reception desk), the workstation must be cleaned and disinfected between users.

  • Reducing congesting and congregation in the office by adjusting workplace hours, limiting in-person presence to necessary staff, staggering shifts, etc.

  • Closing non-essential common areas (e.g., gyms, pools, game rooms, etc.).

  • Limiting the use of shared objects (tools, laptops, telephones, writing utensils, supplies, etc.), requiring employees to wear gloves when handling shared objects, or requiring employees to practice hand hygiene before and after contact with the shared object.

  • Adhering to cleaning, disinfection, and hygiene guidelines set by the CDC and Department of Health, using products identified by the Environmental Protection Agency as effective against COVID-19. Offices must also maintain cleaning logs on site. Cleaning must be performed frequently and, at a minimum, daily.

  • Hanging posters and provide training to employees on health and safety guidelines.

  • Maintaining a log of all employees and visitors who may have close contact with other individuals in the office.

  • Implementing mandatory health screening assessments for employees, and also for visitors (where practicable). Screening assessments can be performed remotely through telephone or electronic survey and does not mandate the use of temperature checks. On-site screeners must be provided appropriate training and PPE. Screening assessment responses must be documented and reviewed daily.

  • Developing a written Safety Plan outlining how the workplace will prevent the spread of COVID-19. The written Safety Plan does not need to be submitted to any government agency unless asked to do so at any future inspection. [3]

  • Requiring the employer to read the guidelines posted on the New York State Phase 2 website and affirming that it has read and understand them. [4]

Employers should also consult with their office building management to discuss what steps the building management will take with respect to common areas.

As with other rules and regulations implemented by the various government agencies in response to COVID-19, the guidance above may change as new developments in the COVID-19 pandemic occur. Businesses must be diligent in reviewing the latest guidance, assessing its business Safety Plan, and adjusting the plan if necessary to ensure compliance.

Our firm has extensive experience in counseling businesses on workplace safety issues, including those related to COVID-19. If you have any questions about this legal briefing or question regarding your businesses’ reopening requirements, please contact any member of the Firm at 585-730-4773.

[1] https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/guidance-business-response.html#more-changes [2] https://www.governor.ny.gov/sites/governor.ny.gov/files/atoms/files/OfficesSummaryGuidelines.pdf [3]https://www.governor.ny.gov/sites/governor.ny.gov/files/atoms/files/NYS_BusinessReopeningSafetyPlanTemplate.pdf [4] https://www.governor.ny.gov/sites/governor.ny.gov/files/atoms/files/offices-interim-guidance.pdf


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This Legal Briefing is intended for general informational and educational purposes only and should not be considered legal advice or counsel. The substance of this Legal Briefing is not intended to cover all legal issues or developments regarding the matter discussed. Please consult an attorney to ascertain how the applicable law may relate to you or your business. © 2020 Law Offices of Pullano & Farrow PLLC

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