Maintaining a Safe Workplace When Reopening Your Business During the COVID-19 Pandemic

May 6, 2020Alerts

With many state governments rolling back or modifying stay-at-home orders that had temporarily closed certain businesses, employers that are reopening should follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) guidance for reducing the risk of workplace exposure to COVID-19 for all employees.

In anticipation of businesses resuming operations, the CDC recently issued Reopening Guidance on what employers should do (and how to clean) as they prepare to reopen, published FAQs for Businesses regarding COVID-19, and issued guidance on when an employee who contracts COVID-19 may return to work

Under OSHA rules, employers have a duty to furnish employees with a place of employment that is free from recognized hazards that cause or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to their employees. With respect to the COVID-19 pandemic, this means providing employees with a safe workplace by mitigating their risk of exposure to the virus. Here are few key points from the foregoing guidance to assist employers in providing a safe workplace during the pandemic.

Know When to Allow an Employee Suspected or Confirmed to have COVID-19 to Return to Work

Employees who are sick should not be permitted to report to the workplace. But when should an employee suspected or confirmed to have COVID-19 return to work? Such employees may return to work only when certain conditions are met. According to the CDC’s FAQs for Businesses, in general (there is some industry specific guidance), employees who have suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19 should not return to work until they meet the CDC’s most recent criteria to discontinue home isolation. This is satisfied when the employee has met one of the following sets of criteria:

  • Option 1: If, in consultation with a health care provider and local public health authorities knowledgeable about locally available testing resources, it is determined an employee will not be tested to determine if they are still contagious, the employee can leave home and return to work after these three conditions have been met:
    • The employee has had no fever for at least 72 hours (that is, three full days of no fever without the use of medicine that reduces fevers)
      AND
    • respiratory symptoms have improved (for example, cough or shortness of breath have improved)
      AND
    • at least 10 days have passed since their symptoms first appeared
  • Option 2: If, in consultation with a health care provider and local public health authorities knowledgeable about locally available testing resources, it is determined the employee will be tested to determine if the employee is still contagious, the employee can leave home after these three conditions have been met:
    • The employee no longer has a fever (without the use of medicine that reduces fevers)
      AND
    • respiratory symptoms have improved (for example, cough or shortness of breath have improved)
      AND
    • they received two negative tests in a row, at least 24 hours apart. Their doctor should follow CDC guidelines.

Use the Right Cleaning Products

The CDC advises that the use of proper cleaning products can kill SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has compiled a list of disinfectant products that can be used against COVID-19, including ready-to-use sprays, concentrates and wipes. Check this list of EPA-approved disinfectants to determine if your disinfectants are effective against the virus. While the CDC suggests that soap and water will decrease the amount of virus on surfaces and objects, which reduces the risk of exposure, using EPA-approved disinfectants to clean surfaces offers more assurance that you are properly disinfecting the workplace. This could also show that you are taking employee (and customer) safety seriously and may help minimize the number of illnesses.

Disinfect/Clean Common Areas and Items

Businesses should determine which areas need to be cleaned, and how often ― sometimes multiple times per day depending on how frequently the item is used. The CDC’s examples of frequently touched surfaces and objects that will need routine disinfection following reopening are:

  • tables
  • doorknobs
  • light switches
  • countertops
  • handles
  • desks
  • phones
  • keyboards
  • toilets
  • faucets and sinks
  • gas pump handles
  • touch screens
  • ATM machines

Common areas such as lunch rooms and break rooms should also be properly cleaned at least daily. More information on how to clean various types of surfaces is available here.   

Implement Workplace Practices and Policies for a Safe Workplace

There are many workplace practices that may help reduce the transmission of COVID-19.  Below is a short list of options that may be easy to implement:

  • Social distancing (keep employees six feet apart from each other and customers, whenever possible)
  • Limit in-person meetings
  • Minimize physical contact
  • Limit gatherings in lunch and break rooms
  • Intensify sanitation efforts (see above)
  • Educate employees about best practices regarding hygiene (frequently washing hands or using alcohol-based (at least 60% alcohol) hand sanitizer when soap and water are not available; avoiding touching eyes, nose, and mouth)
  • Wearing cloth face coverings and other personal protective equipment (PPE) as appropriate
  • Staying home when sick
  • Respond to any safety concerns raised by employees (be proactive; communicate with employees early and often)
  • Ask employees to take their temperatures before reporting to work and to not report to work if they have a fever, if appropriate
  • Temperature scans for employees, if appropriate

This alert is based on general CDC and OSHA guidance only. It’s important to continue to follow federal, state, tribal, territorial and local guidance for reopening.


For more information, please contact Lucy Li at 609.896.3600 or [email protected], or any member of Fox Rothschild LLP’s Labor & Employment Department.

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