In mid-March the work world as we know it changed dramatically for most. Many employers were forced to make immediate decisions about things previously unknown to them like furloughs, wage reductions, providing PPE, applying for loans to cover payroll, and ensuring the safety of essential workers. Now the focus is on return to work plans and providing a safe place for employees, customers, and vendors to return to something as close as possible to “business as usual.”
Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker announced on Monday, May 18, a 4-Phase reopening process for Massachusetts businesses – both essential and non-essential.
As more businesses begin to re-open their doors and consider ways to provide a safe environment for their employees in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, employers may find that many of their employees are facing or continuing to face new and unprecedented challenges. These challenges frequently come at a cost. In order to provide employees with assistance and encourage them to return to work despite these additional costs, employers may want to consider offering tax-free “qualified disaster relief payments” to employees.
Last week, Massachusetts Governor, Charlie Baker announced a four-phase reopening strategy for the Commonwealth. Each of the four phases (called “Start,” “Cautious,” “Vigilant,” and “New Normal”) will see gradual reopening of additional industries with lessening restrictions as warranted by data on testing, new cases, and deaths attributable to COVID-19.
Governor Sununu’s Emergency Order #40 (the “Order’) provides guidance on whether a cloth covering or face mask (“mask”) is required in all New Hampshire workplaces and under what conditions, if any, an employer may allow an employee to work without a mask or face covering while at work. The Order was issued on May 1, 2020 and remains in effect until May 31, 2020. It applies to all businesses and organizations deemed “essential” and that remained open during the Governor’s “Stay at Home” orders, and also to those businesses and organizations that are reopening all, or a portion, of their operations.
On May 1, 2020, Governor Sununu issued Emergency Order #40 to facilitate and guide the reopening of the State in phases. Referred to as Stay At Home 2.0, Emergency Order #40 sets forth mandatory requirements for those businesses that were considered to be “essential” and that therefore have remained open, as well as for those that are scheduled to reopen all or a portion of their operations in the coming weeks.
On May 1, 2020, Governor Sununu issued Emergency Order #40 to facilitate and guide the reopening of the State in phases. Referred to as Stay At Home 2.0, Emergency Order #40 sets forth mandatory requirements for those “essential” businesses that have remained open and those that are scheduled to reopen all or a portion of their operations in the coming weeks.
On May 1, 2020, Governor Sununu issued Emergency Order #40 to facilitate and guide the reopening of the State in phases. Referred to as Stay At Home 2.0, Emergency Order #40 sets forth mandatory requirements for those businesses that were considered essential and their facilities have remained open and those that are scheduled to reopen all or a portion of their operations in the coming weeks.
Many manufacturing companies were deemed providers of Essential Services and have remained open since the Governor first issued a stay at home emergency order. These companies have had in place COVID-19 related protocols, procedures, and policies for employees to follow in the workplace for well over a month. Emergency Order #40 makes clear that these companies need to review their current practices and determine if they comply with the newly issued Universal Business Guidelines, effective immediately. Those manufacturing companies that may be reopening portions of their business operations will need to comply with the Universal Business Guidelines at the time of reopening. My colleague has written about the Universal Business Guidelines here, including some guidance on the screening of employees reporting for work.
Manufacturers currently operating or reopening must also comply with the state-issued industry specific guidelines. This specific guidance comes as the media reports outbreaks in manufacturing plants in other states. Stay at Home 2.0 Manufacturing COVID-19 Reopening Guidance sets forth 15 employee protection recommendations that companies must follow for the protection of employees and consumers.
- Review and follow the Universal Business Guidelines for New Hampshire companies.
- Review and follow U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance.
- Review and follow Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) guidance.
- While Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is likely minimal in the manufacturing workplace, employers should assess areas of risk and determine any appropriate PPE under CDC guidance.
- Employees should wear cloth face coverings over nose and mouth when social distancing (at least 6 feet) may be difficult.
- Encourage frequent hand hygiene and provide alcohol-based hand sanitizer and hand washing stations.
- Adjust processes to maintain social distancing (6 feet between employees).
- Stagger shifts, breaks, meals to maintain social distancing (6 feet between employees).
- Provide regular updates, education, and training for employees about protections from COVID-19.
- Require reporting of any employee illness and COVID-19 positive cases in employee’s household to supervisor.
- Implement flexible sick leave policies to allow employees to stay at home when sick or to care for a sick family member.
- Prohibit congregating in break rooms or common areas to allow safe social distancing (6 feet at all times).
- Restrict interaction between employees and outside visitors, including implementing touchless receiving practices if possible.
- Erect impermeable barriers to limit contact with others, whenever possible.
- Require sanitization of equipment and/or workspace areas at beginning, middle and end of shifts, particularly in “high touch” areas, as feasible.
As listed above, the Manufacturing Guidance requires strict adherence to CDC and OSHA guidance. Businesses must also comply with guidance from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Employers should also follow all wage and hour laws and regulations and other employment laws that relate to the workplace.
As noted in the Governor’s press release, this “universal guidance will serve as the bare minimum standards which businesses must meet to maintain or begin operations” and the manufacturing industry will require “specific operational procedures” be put into place based on industry specific guidance as various sectors of the State get back to work. Companies may require additional procedures and practices that are consistent with the above and the Division of Public Health. Employers should review their policies, practices and procedures and make any adjustments or updates as needed to incorporate these mandatory recommendations for the manufacturing industry.
The USDOL on April 29, 2020 announced that a Southern California Tire Company will be required to pay an employee $2,606 in back wages for failing to provide sick leave to an employee under the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act (EPSLA) provisions of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA). The employee presented documentation to his employer from a health care provider advising that he self-quarantine while waiting for a family member’s test results for coronavirus. The employer mistakenly believed that the individual was required to produce evidence of a positive test to qualify for the leave.
The Massachusetts-based Pioneer Institute – a well-respected public policy research body – has issued a “Checklist for Employers” preparing to re-open their facilities. The comprehensive checklist states that:
“While it is impossible to fully eliminate all risks associated with reopening in the COVID-19 setting, an employer may be able to significantly mitigate and reduce risks, such as workplace hazards and employment issues, by following some or all of the recommendations” set forth in the Checklist.