Slowly Resuming Business in the Covid Era

By Todd Masuda


On May 1, 2020 the Ohio Health Director’s “Stay Safe Ohio Order” – the updated pandemic order – took effect as many Ohio businesses hurried to reopen in the wake of Governor DeWine’s “Responsible Restart Ohio” announcement earlier this week. The new Order and Restart guidelines relax the ban on many businesses that have been unable to operate for several weeks.

Ohioans have spent the past month and a half crouching fearfully under the threat of Covid-19, halting most social and business activity in an uncertain attempt to “flatten the curve,” or minimize widespread sickness. We are still under the shock of the mortal anxiety that drove our compliance with the stay at home policies, and the relationship employer and employee is still being reshaped under the continued risk of the pandemic. As employers develop new procedures for conducting business, it is important to understand the fresh presence of this anxiety or fear in the Covid era workplace, and to understand that good employer policies can help build employee trust by acknowledging that fear. Employers who are able to engender trust will distinguish themselves to their workers much as Governor DeWine has distinguished himself to his constituents over these past weeks.

Assuming your business is cleared for reentry under the Responsible Restart guidelines, are the steps to follow.

  1. Keep your teleworkers home. The whole point of the Order is still to avoid spreading the virus, which is an “imminent threat with a high probability of widespread exposure to Covid-19 with a significant risk of substantial harm to a large number of people in the general population.” That means we are still at risk and everyone who can stay home should stay home. Every operating business should actively enable working from home. If your workers can stay home and do business they should also stay home and do business.
  2. Identify your vulnerable employees and implement appropriate additional precautions for them.
    1. Who are vulnerable persons? Current CDC guidance distinguishes the following:
      1. People 65 years and older
      2. People of all ages with underlying medical conditions, particularly if not well controlled, including:
        1. People with chronic lung disease or moderate to severe asthma
        2. People who have serious heart conditions
        3. People who are immunocompromised: Many conditions can cause a person to be immunocompromised, including cancer treatment, smoking (!), bone marrow or organ transplantation, immune deficiencies, poorly controlled HIV or AIDS, and prolonged use of corticosteroids and other immune weakening medications
        4. People with severe obesity (body mass index [BMI] of 40 or higher) (for someone 5’10” that’s 279 pounds)
        5. People with diabetes
        6. People with chronic kidney disease undergoing dialysis
        7. People with liver disease
    2. Examine your company’s particular situation and determine what “additional precautions” are appropriate. Of course, the obvious one is to make additional allowances so they can work from home or otherwise stay home.
  3. Establish appropriate physical distancing practices in each area of your business’s physical configuration.
    1. Six feet. The six-foot rule is a general guideline to protect most people from wet matter emanating from the mouths and noses of others. It’s not a magic circle. Consider it a minimum safe distance, but acknowledge that some people will still erode the zone by sneezing, coughing, and spitting.
    2. Set occupancy limits based on 50% the fire regulations.
    3. In each area, examine typical foot traffic patterns and identify “pinch points” where distancing is difficult or the risk of wet matter transmission becomes more likely. This includes the following:
      1. Passageways: elevators, doors that serve as both entrances and exits, hallways.
      2. Gathering points: places where people line up, wait for each other, watch a common screen, eat together, excrete, wash hands, clock in and out, change clothes, smoke.
      3. Communication points: places where people talk to each other. Workstations, training areas, shared screens,
      4. Collaborative working areas: places where people have to be close together to examine, discuss, lift, or assemble things. Checkout counters. Vehicles. Locker rooms. Labs. Presentation or collaboration pods.
    4. Reduce staffing on each shift. Stagger schedules so fewer employees are likely to create transmission events in your workplace. Reduce the number of people in your workplace at any time.
    5. Post signage to remind people of the company’s distancing, handwashing, sanitizing, masking, and other coronavirus safety policies.
    6. Consider air flow in the workplace. Some news stories indicate that covid may be transmitted by inhaling airborne particles, and that airflow and exposure time are factors in transmitting infection. Consider limiting time in spaces with questionable air circulation like offices, conference rooms, hallways, and labs.
  4. Site Hygiene.
    1. Common surface cleaning.
      1. Identify high touch surfaces. Identify them with particularity in your workplace.
      2. Appoint people to clean, and provide time and materials for cleaning.
    2. Deep sanitation. The Order requires occasional “deep sanitation.” You will have to figure out what “deep sanitation” means because when someone in your workplace gets sick, you must be prepared to actually do it.
  5. Employee Procedures
    1. Daily symptom check. Employees are to conduct self-checks every day before work. Employers are also allowed to take employee temperatures and inquire about Covid-19 symptoms for workplace safety reasons. The list of symptoms has changed over the past couple of weeks, and can be expected to change again. Here is the current list of CDC symptoms for Covid-19:
      1. Cough
      2. Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
      3. Or at least two of these symptoms:
        1. Fever
        2. Chills
        3. Repeated shaking with chills
        4. Muscle pain
        5. Headache
        6. Sore throat
        7. New loss of taste or smell
    2. Symptomatic employees. Every company will have employees who come down with the foregoing symptoms. What should the employer do?
      1. Isolate the employee
      2. Notify the local Board of Health
        1. Facilitate contract tracing
        2. Comply with testing followup (anticipated)
      3. Shutdown the facility for deep sanitation, if possible
      4. Work with the employee to determine leave rights
    3. Mask policy. Establish a masking policy for your employees. The new Order addresses masks in section 8 and in the “sector specific” guidance in section 21. Be prepared for strong reactions to your mask policies. Emotional reactions to the Order so far have been out of proportion to the purpose of the masks, which is simply to deflect or diffuse the spray of wet matter during coughing, sneezing, talking, and breathing.
      1. Establish a reasonable mask policy for particular workplace interactions
        1. General policy
          1. Order guidelines are the minimum standard (The Order contains specific rules for different industries, but generally employers must require employees to wear masks but do not have to require nonemployees to wear them)
          2. Employers can impose greater restrictions on customers and others
        2. Masking policies for employees in your specific workplace:
          1. Among co-workers
          2. With customers
          3. With servicepeople & vendors
    4. Off-Site Employees. Companies that perform services or deliver goods to customer sites should also develop clear policies for their employees. Employees should be able to rely on reasonable social distancing and hygiene requirements at the job site. Employees should also have a clear policy for reporting specific risks, and should not be compelled to work at sites with unreasonable coronavirus risks. Your employees should feel confident that management is supporting them in the field.
  6. Customer and visitor requirements.
    1. Establish an appointment policy to reduce crowding
    2. Post distancing notices or barriers
    3. Establish mask policies for customers and visitors. Companies may require masks for customers. Alternatively, businesses can consider setting different times or areas for unmasked customers (e.g., curbside pickup only; limited hours with lower occupancy)
    4. Businesses may implement symptom checks for customers, including symptom questionnaires and temperature checks