June 25, 2020

The Five-Step Protocol to Reopening a Business

Over the past few months, guidance on how to create a safer, low-risk workplace has frequently changed. Fortunately, the state of California has finally reached a point where comprehensive and concrete advice is now available.

On June 24, 2020, the California Statewide Industry Guidance to Reduce Risk website was updated. In addition to providing industry-specific guidance and opening checklists for approximately 40 different industries, the website now unambiguously requires all businesses—regardless of which “phase” they reopen—to follow a five-step protocol (as described in greater detail throughout this article):

  • Perform a detailed risk assessment and create a site-specific protection plan.
  • Train employees on how to limit the spread of COVID-19. This includes how to screen themselves for symptoms and when to stay home.
  • Set up individual control measures and screenings.
  • Put disinfection protocols in place.
  • Establish physical distancing guidelines

1. Create a Site-Specific Protection Plan

When creating a site-specific protection plan, employers should refer to the Statewide Industry Guidance, and if allowed by the county in which the business is located, the Additional Industry Guidance. While many elements of the guidance are the same across industries—such as cleaning and physical distancing—consideration also was given to industry-specific requirements. When complete, businesses must post the industry-specific checklist in their workplace to show customers and employees that they’ve reduced the risk and are fully equipped to reopen.

Employers should also consider any additional federal, state, tribal, territorial, or local guidance that may apply to them. For example, the California Department of Public Health Agency’s

Guidance for the Use of Face Coverings requires Californians to wear face coverings in most settings outside the home, including when “engaged in work, whether at the workplace or performing work off-site, when:

  • Interacting in person with any member of the public;
  • Working in any space visited by members of the public, regardless of whether anyone from the public is present at the time;
  • Working in any space where food is prepared or packaged for sale or distribution to others;
  • Working in or walking through common areas, such as hallways, stairways, elevators, and parking facilities;
  • In any room or enclosed area where other people (except for members of the person’s own household or residence) are present when unable to physically distance.”

2. Encourage Sick Employees to Stay Home

To help prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace, employers should train employees to screen themselves for Symptoms of COVID-19 and continuously remind employees to stay home if they are feeling sick. At this time, best practice points to having a flexible, non-punitive leave policy that allows sick employees to stay home and away from coworkers.

According to the California Statewide Industry Guidance to Reduce Risk, employees who are sick should know to stay home and employers’ sick leave policies must support sick employees staying home. Employers should also provide the following guidance to their employees:

3. Implement Individual Control Measures and Screenings

Industry-specific “individual control measures and screenings” can be found in the Statewide Industry Guidance, and if allowed by the county in which the business is located, the Additional Industry Guidance. The measures ordinarily include providing temperature and/or symptom screenings for all employees at the beginning of their shift, encouraging employees who are sick or exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 to stay home, ensuring employees use face coverings, etc. However, the exact guidance provided varies substantially from industry to industry and should be reviewed.

4. Establish Cleaning and Disinfecting Protocols

Prior to reopening, it is important for employers to clean and disinfect the workplace and implement a cleaning and disinfecting strategy for after reopening that can be adjusted as additional guidance is released. In doing so, employers should consider the following: (1) What items can be moved or removed completely to reduce frequent handling or contact from multiple people? Soft and porous materials, such as area rugs and seating, may be removed or stored to reduce the challenges with cleaning and disinfecting them. (2) What kinds of surfaces and materials make up the workplace? Most surfaces and objects will just need normal routine cleaning. Frequently touched surfaces and objects such as light switches and doorknobs will need to be cleaned and then disinfected to further reduce the risk of germs on surfaces and objects. (3) Do special considerations need to be taken? Most probably. Refer to the Statewide Industry Guidance, and if allowed by the county in which the business is located, the Additional Industry Guidance.

The person doing the cleaning should take certain steps to ensure that they are being safe and cleaning and disinfecting properly. The person doing the cleaning should wear disposable gloves to clean and disinfect and wash their hands often with soap and water for 20 seconds, especially after removing their gloves. In addition, when disinfecting EPA-Approved Disinfectants should be used. When using an EPA-approved disinfectant, one should always read and follow the directions on the label to ensure safe and effective use. If an EPA-approved disinfectant is unavailable, businesses can use 1/3 cup of bleach added to one gallon of water, or 70 percent alcohol solutions to disinfect. No person should ever mix bleach or other cleaning and disinfection products together. Please keep in mind that bleach solutions will be effective for disinfection up to 24 hours. For additional information, please see CDC’s website on Cleaning and Disinfecting Your Facility.

Find additional reopening guidance for cleaning and disinfecting in the Reopening Decision Tool. Please note that regular cleaning and disinfecting of a workplace, as discussed in this article, is different from cleaning and disinfecting a workplace after potential exposure.

5. Establish Physical Distancing Guidelines

Implement measures to ensure physical distancing of at least six feet between employees. These can include use of physical partitions or visual cues (e.g., floor markings or signs to indicate to where employees should stand). Again, guidance will vary based on the industry; thus, employers should refer to the Statewide Industry Guidance, and if allowed by the county in which the business is located, the Additional Industry Guidance.

What Employers Should Know Now

Employers need to carefully review all guidance available to them prior to reopening their business. Employers should also take into consideration any unique challenges their business may face (e.g., a particularly small workplace). Reopening a business and inviting employees and guests to return before proper protocols are put into place will create a substantial amount of risk down the road—risk that can easily be mitigated.

Disclaimer: Laws, regulations, and guidance on matters related to COVID-19 change rapidly. Please contact your Payne & Fears attorney for current guidance.