March 13, 2020
Authored by: Susan Brice
We are posting a series of answers to Frequently Asked Questions and practical advice to consider in the era of COVID-19. These posts are not intended to cover all employee issues or healthcare settings recommendations, but rather are focused on dealing with premises liability involving invitees. Other resources for handling employees include: https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/covid-19/l; https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/covid-19/; https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/organizations/cleaning-disinfection.html. Please review other posts related to COVID-19 published on this blog for additional information. If you have questions specific to your company’s individualized situation, contact Susan Brice (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Tom Lee (email@example.com). For any employment related questions, please contact the BCLP employment lawyer with whom you work or Lily Kurland (firstname.lastname@example.org), who can provide you with information about guidelines and protocols they have developed to assist employers with these issues.
What Steps Should I take at My Premises to Prevent the Spread of COVID-19?
The CDC has set forth practices for businesses to follow on its website. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/guidance-business-response.html. These include encouraging sick employees to stay home, separating sick employees, emphasizing good hygiene by all employees, routine environmental cleaning and creating an infectious disease outbreak plan. CDC also explains how to conduct cleaning and disinfection, which is something most businesses have not done in the past. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/organizations/cleaning-disinfection.html. These instructions cover topics such as how to clean surfaces; which types of disinfectants to use; how to handle laundry and trash; disposing of waste (employers must comply with OSHA’s standards on Bloodborne Pathogens); hazard training; and the use personal protective equipment (e.g., gloves and gowns). You should review the guidelines and develop a plan consistent with the guidelines.
Because some locations are experiencing community spread and others are not, it is prudent to consult your state and local health authorities for any additional guidance unique to your area. For example, the City of Chicago Department of Public Health has set up a website regarding COVID-19. https://www.chicago.gov/city/en/depts/cdph/provdrs/health_protection_and_response/svcs/2019-novel-coronavirus–2019-ncov-.html.
OSHA also has published “Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19.” https://www.osha.gov/Publications/OSHA3990.pdf. The Guidance recommends, among other things, discouraging workers from using the phones, desks, offices, tools and equipment of other workers. All of these guidelines are evolving in conjunction with the science. It is reasonable to assume that courts would look to these guidelines to inform the applicable standard of care and to determine whether a premises owner/operator has been negligent. Thus, it is important to review and implement all relevant guidelines and continuously update that review as the standard of care will likely be evolving in real time.