Holiday Shopping Surge Highlights Importance of OSHA’s COVID-19 Guidance for Retailers

December 1, 2020Alerts

With the holiday shopping season in full swing, now is a good time for retail employers to review their policies and procedures to protect workers from exposure to COVID-19. Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act, employers are required to provide employees with a workplace free from recognized hazards likely to cause death or serious physical injury or harm. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has put together a resource center to provide guidance in this year’s unique holiday shopping season. Although many of these tips are likely already common practice (or even required by state or local COVID-19 orders), it is important to stay vigilant this holiday season as shopping — when contact occurs between workers and customers — will only increase.

Social Distancing

To protect workers during the holiday shopping rush, retail employers should employ procedures and practices that encourage distance between co-workers and customers, such as floor markings and signage, installing clear plastic dividers and opening every other cash register station. Where possible, allow for the use of a drive-through window or curbside pickup to reduce contact between employees and customers.

Hygiene and Cleaning

Retail employers should also make provisions for employees to practice good hygiene, such as providing a place to wash hands or hand sanitizers with at least 60% alcohol, allow workers to wear masks to prevent the spread of the virus and provide tissues and trash cans. In addition, routine cleaning and disinfecting of surfaces should be employed using cleaners labeled as appropriate for coronavirus or from the EPA approved list. Employers should train workers on both hygiene procedures and cleaning procedures.

Employee Illness

Sick workers should be encouraged to stay home. CDC guidance for discontinuing self-isolation and returning to work after illness should be followed. A summary of the CDC’s guidance is available here

Employers should continue to follow OSHA’s previously issued guidance on retail safety and stockroom and loading dock practices to reduce the risk of COVID-19 exposure for their employees. Most retail activities are categorized as low risk (workers who do not have frequent contact with the general public), which includes tasks with no customer interaction such as working in a stock room or when the store is closed to the public; or medium risk (workers with ongoing community contact such as high-volume retail in areas experiencing ongoing community transmission), which includes tasks involving customer interaction. OSHA has suggested that employers consider a combination of engineering and administrative controls, along with safe work practices, to protect workers, particularly those engaging in tasks that involve frequent contact with the public.

Retail Engineering Controls

Engineering controls are those that physically separate workers from the risk of COVID-19 transmission. Engineering controls that retail employers may use to protect workers include:

  • Placing a physical barrier, such as clear plastic, to separate workers and customers in cash register lanes and check-out stations
  • Using floor markings or signs to direct customers to maintain social distancing and keep at least six feet from a cash register work station
  • Erecting rope-and-stanchion systems to keep customers from lining up too close to work areas
  • Using a barrier or markers to separate customers and workers when stocking of shelves and displays occurs while stores are open

Retail Administrative Controls

Administrative controls are work policies and procedures to reduce or minimize the potential for COVID-19 exposure. Administrative controls that retail employers may consider to reduce the risk of exposure to the virus include:

  • Encouraging customers to use self-checkout kiosks, if available
  • Establishing cleaning protocols and providing supplies for workers to disinfect frequently touched areas (for example, credit card terminals, cash register touch screens and keyboards, and door handles or push bars)
  • Restricting the number of customers allowed inside a store at one time
  • Discouraging the sharing of equipment
  • Coordinating with vendors and delivery companies to minimize contact between workers and delivery drivers
  • Maintaining at least six feet between co-workers and customers, where possible
  • Stocking displays during slow periods or when stores are closed
  • Increasing the number of short breaks given to workers to allow for increased hand-washing, or providing alcohol-based hand sanitizers with at least 60% alcohol for workers to frequently sanitize their hands
  • Increasing in-store pickup or delivery

PPE and Safe Work Practices

Retail workers should be encouraged to wear masks and employ safe work practices, including frequent hand-washing or use of hand sanitizers, and refraining from touching their face, particularly until after their hands have been washed upon completing work and removing PPE.

For a summary of OSHA’s guidance on general workplace safety during the COVID-19 pandemic, read our previous alert: OSHA Provides Guidance for Employers on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19.

This alert is based on general OSHA guidance only. Federal, state, tribal, territorial and local guidance may impose these or additional requirements for precautionary measures.

For information about OSHA COVID-19 safety guidelines, or related issues, contact author Allison Hollows at [email protected], or any other member of the firm's national Labor & Employment team.