While Georgia has been the focus of many news stories for its early, aggressive actions to reopen its economy, the data and models suggest that many states will be able to begin reopening their economies throughout the month of May. However, reopening will be moving in phases and is not simply going to be a free-for-all where everything goes back to normal. First, the reopening plans are contingent upon the availability of expanded testing capabilities, contact tracing to determine who may have been infected by individuals who test positive, availability of personal protective equipment (“PPE”) and medical capacity to ensure that a second surge would not lead to a worst-case scenario. Second, reopening plans are focused on slowly returning to normal, in most cases in three phases, through a gradual lifting of restrictions.
The Federal Government has issued guidance on what Phase One will look like for employers in its Guidelines for Opening Up America Again. Through all phases, employers are directed to continue to implement and follow policies promoted by federal and state authorities related to social distancing and protective equipment, use of temperature checks, sanitation and disinfecting practices, limited use and disinfection of common and high-traffic areas, business travel. In Phase One, employers are still encouraged to promote telework, whenever possible. Instead, employers are directed to return their employees to work in phases, not all at once. Common areas where employees are likely to congregate or socialize should be closed and, if that is not possible, strict social distancing protocols should be implemented for those areas. Non-essential travel is discouraged. The takeaway for employers? If you are going to reopen, you need to ensure that your policies and procedures still follow CDC guidelines for cleanliness, sanitation and social distancing. Employers who reopen without adequate protections in place for their employees risk restarting a surge of cases and possibly negligence claims against the company.
Remember, though, that all of the stay-at-home orders were implemented by the states, so these phases will be implemented by the states based on their own unique circumstances and timelines. Maryland, for example, has issued the “Maryland Strong: Roadmap for Recovery” utilizing the federal government’s guidelines. In addition to those essential businesses that were permitted to stay open already, Stage One calls for lifting the stay-at-home order, and involves business, community, religious, and quality of life improvements. Examples of changes that could be implemented in this stage include:
- Reopening of small shops and certain small businesses that were previously classified as non-essential
- Curbside pickup and drop-off for non-essential businesses
- Elective medical and dental procedures at ambulatory, outpatient, and medical offices
- Limited attendance outdoor religious gatherings
- Recreational boating, fishing, golf, tennis, hiking, and hunting
- Reopening of car washes
- Limited outdoor gym and fitness classes
- Outdoor work with appropriate distancing measures
- Some personal services
Stage One is notable for what is not included. Schools and daycares are not included in the types of businesses that should reopen, so employers will still need to be flexible with employee schedules and allow the use of leave under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. Some non-essential businesses will be permitted to reopen, but not all, and social distancing will still need to be followed for those that reopen. It can be expected that individuals in indoor public spaces will still need to wear masks and stores will continue to use PPE to protect their employees. Bars and restaurants will likely still be limited to takeout and delivery services until Stage Two. While it is a reopening, Stage One is more reminiscent of the initial responses to Covid-19 than the pre-pandemic economy.
As we move forward through the phases of reopening, we will continue to monitor the federal, state and local responses to COVID-19. Please visit our resources page for additional information as we move, hopefully, to a return to normalcy.
If you have any questions, please contact our Employment & Labor Law practice group.
Visit our COVID-19 Resource Page for more updates.