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Dinse Brief – Returning Employees To The Workplace

Governor Phil Scott continues to ease the stay-at-home restrictions and moves forward with a cautious and incremental restart of the Vermont economy.  On May 1st, he released his most recent Addendum to the State of Emergency Declaration (Executive Order 01-20).  In conjunction with the Addendum, the Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development (ACCD) updated its work safe guidance.  The employer-related requirements included in the Addendum and the ACCD Guidance are set forth below.

Create and Ensure Employee Completion of Required Health and Safety Training

All employees (except healthcare workers, first responders, and others already trained in infection control, personal protection/universal precautions) must complete mandated health and safety training, and employers must maintain records showing that their employees completed the required training.  The Vermont Occupational Safety and Health Agency (VOSHA), in consultation with the Vermont Department of Health, developed a program with a minimal level of health and safety training that employers may utilize as a starting point.  VOSHA’s training materials may be accessed here: https://labor.vermont.gov/vermont-occupational-safety-and-health-administration-vosha

With the exception of employers with fewer than 10 employees at any one office or site of operations, which may elect to solely implement the training provided by VOSHA training, employers will need to augment the VOSHA training materials with additional policies and procedures customized to the unique nature of the employer’s sector-specific employment environment. As stated in the Governor’s Addendum, the augmented plans should assess the need to:

  • Adopt a phased approach to reopening which provides sufficient opportunity to operate first in a low density and low contact environment before making the incremental changes needed to accommodate more moderate density activity while continuing to maintain health and safety.
  • Update physical and administrative safety systems to accommodate COVID-19 VDH/CDC/VOSHA guidelines, health monitoring, including temperature checks, cleaning and sanitizing methods and physical distancing measures.
  • Take appropriate measures to protect employees at greater risk of contact by virtue of their occupational role or setting.

Prior to reopening, all businesses that have suspended operations for 7 or more days because of the Governor’s stay-at-home order must have on file their health and safety training plan, which must be provided to VOSHA or any employee, upon request.

Ensure Compliance with Safety Requirements

Before returning employees to the workplace, employers should ensure that they can implement and comply with the following physical distancing and health and sanitation measures which are set forth in Addendum 12 to Executive Order 01-20 and the ACCD’s May 1st Update on New Work Safe Additions to the Stay Home, Stay Safe Order:

  • Employees shall not report to, or be allowed to remain at, work or job site if sick or symptomatic (with fever, cough, and/or shortness of breath).
  • Employees must observe strict social distancing of six feet while on the job. Businesses and non-profit or government entities shall ensure customers observe strict social distancing of six feet while on location, to the extent possible.
  • Limit the occupancy of designated common areas, such as break rooms and cafeterias, so that occupants maintain strict social distancing of no less than 6 feet per individual. The employer shall enforce the occupancy limit and require employees to wipe down their area after use or shall ensure cleaning of the common areas at regular intervals throughout the day.
  • Employees must wear face coverings over their nose and mouth when in the presence of others. In the case of retail cashiers, a translucent shield or “sneeze guard” is acceptable in lieu of a mask.  Businesses and non-profit and government entities may require customers or clients to wear masks.
  • Employees must have easy and frequent access to soap and water or hand sanitizer during duration of work, and handwashing or hand sanitization should be required before entering, and leaving, job sites.
  • All common spaces (when open) and equipment, including bathrooms, frequently touched surfaces and doors, tools and equipment, and vehicles must be cleaned regularly and, when possible, prior to transfer from one person to another, in accordance with CDC guidance (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/reopen-guidance.html?deliveryName=USCDC_2067-DM26911).
  • No more than two people shall occupy one vehicle when conducting work.
  • Prior to the commencement of each work shift, pre-screening and health survey shall be required to verify each employee has no symptoms of respiratory illness (fever, cough, and/or shortness of breath). At the present time non-contact thermometers are in short supply, however employers shall immediately order, and use their best efforts to obtain, thermometers in order to conduct routine temperature checks.
  • Signs must be posted at all entrances clearly indicating that no one may enter if they have symptoms of respiratory illness.
  • No congregation of employees shall be permitted on site.
  • No symptomatic or COVID-19 positive workers are allowed on site and any workers who have contact with a worker or any other person who is diagnosed with COVID-19 shall be quarantined for 14 days.
  • Indoor workspaces where more than 2 employees are working must have good air circulation.  When working inside, open doors and windows to promote air flow to the greatest extent possible and limit the number of people occupying a single indoor space.
  • All operations shall designate a health officer on-site at every shift responsible for ensuring compliance with the Governor’s Executive Order and the Addenda thereto and applicable Agency for Commerce and Community Development Guidance. This person shall have the authority to stop or modify activities to ensure work conforms with the mandatory health and safety requirements.
  • All business, non-profit and government operations must use remote work whenever possible.

The ACCD guidance includes the following additional health and safety considerations for employers:

  • Use of shared workspaces, desks, offices, etc. is discouraged to the maximum extent practicable.
  • Face-to-face staff meetings should be limited, and physical distancing must be observed.
  • Consider staggered work shifts, break times, etc. and expanding hours to reduce number of individuals working together and reduce contact with members of the public.
  • To the extent possible, provide access to hand washing and/or hand sanitizer for vendors, and customers.
  • Limit staff travel between multiple sites.
  • Ensure a safe process to receive supplies and deliveries.
  • Consider accommodations for employees at higher risk from COVID-19 infection (as currently defined by the CDC) to work remotely or have a job tasks that minimize public interaction.

As the phased restart of the Vermont economy continues, the requirements set forth above are likely to be supplemented or modified.  Employers will need to stay informed about and comply with the Governor’s directives about physical distancing and health and sanitation measures in the workplace.

In addition to the requirements/guidance noted above, there is a wealth of information and resources available to employers:

Employers should review these resources to assist them as they develop return to work plans that will best meet their needs, based on their specific industries and respective workplaces.

For more information, or for assistance with planning a return of employees to the workplace, please contact Amy McLaughlin (amclaughlin@dinse.com), Karen McAndrew (kmcandrew@dinse.com), Maggie Platzer (mplatzer@dinse.com), or Kendall Hoechst (khoechst@dinse.com).

Dinse Covid-19 Update

To ensure the health and safety of our employees and clients as well as our community, we have closed our office to outside visitors and have suspended in-person meetings. Our attorneys and staff are fully connected to our systems and are available via phone and email to meet our clients needs. We encourage you to take all necessary precautions to keep yourself and your loved ones safe. Dinse remains fully committed to addressing your legal needs so that you can remain focused on the health and safety of your organization, your employees, and our shared community. As always, we look forward to working with you.