Proposed COVID-19 OSHA Rules Will Apply to Law Firms

The Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is proposing a temporary rule that would require all employers to implement risk-reducing COVID measures, including social distancing, barriers, face coverings, cleaning, and information sharing.

The temporary rule has a planned effective date of Monday, September 14 and would eventually become permanent. View the rulemaking timeline here.

Summary of Key Provisions

Key provisions applicable to law firms include:

Six-foot distancing between all individuals in the workplace

  • Both the work activities and the workplace must be designed to eliminate the need for any worker to be within 6-feet of another individual in order to fulfill their duties.
  • To the extent that the employer can demonstrate that such separation is not practical, the employer must ensure that face coverings are worn and that as much distance as practical is maintained.
  • The 6-foot distancing requirement can also be met with an impermeable barrier that creates a “droplet buffer” of at least 6-feet in distance as measured between the mouths of the affected individuals (the droplet buffer is effectively the distance a string would travel if it were held in the mouths of the two individuals – the rule draft provides several examples of such calculations).

Mandatory Face Coverings

Everyone in the workplace or other premises subject to the employer’s control must wear face coverings (masks, cloth coverings, or face shields) whenever the 6-foot distancing requirement cannot be consistently assured.

  • Face coverings must be worn by employees and other individuals whenever customers, contractors, or other visitors are present and a strict separation cannot be maintained through barriers that physically prevent individuals from approaching within 6 feet of one another.
  • Face coverings must be worn by employees when the work requires them to be within 6 feet of one or more individuals for more than 5 minutes either in a singular instance or in all cases when work requires such contact more than 30 minutes total in the course of a single working day.
  • Face coverings must be worn by employees working in office settings when not at their desk or seated in a conference room in addition to whenever 6-foot distancing cannot be reliably maintained between individuals (for example, face coverings must be worn in corridors, restrooms, elevators, and stairwells).

Cleaning of High-Contact Surfaces

All employers must ensure that all high-contact surfaces used by multiple employees (door handles, telephones, computers, drinking fountains, etc.) are thoroughly cleaned at the beginning of each shift.

  • All shared equipment and high-touch surfaces must be cleaned before use by another employee.
  • The employer must ensure that employees have the supplies necessary and are able to use proper hand hygiene before and after using shared equipment or tools and before eating, drinking, applying cosmetics, or smoking.

Social Distancing and Enforcement Officer

Employers with at least 25 employees at any time must designate one or more employees who will be responsible to assist the employer in identifying appropriate social distancing, proper face covering use, and sanitation measures and ensure such policies and procedures are implemented.

Building Owners/Operators

Building operators must ensure that the building layout allows appropriate social distancing and must ensure that the basic requirements of this rule are posted (and enforced to the degree reasonably possible) in any common areas, including shared entrances, waiting rooms, corridors, restrooms, and elevators.

Required OSHA Posting, Information, and Employee Training

Employers must provide information and training to their employees:

  • Employers must post the “COVID-19 Hazards Poster,” which will be provided by Oregon OSHA.
  • Employers must notify their employees about the social distancing requirements and how they will be implemented in the workplace, and employers must provide an opportunity for employee feedback about those practices (through the Social Distancing Officer and through either the Safety Committee, an interactive safety meeting, or both). Such notification must be conducted in a manner and language understood by the affected workers.
  • Employers must provide an explanation of the employer’s policies and procedures for employees to report signs or symptoms of COVID-19. Such explanations must be conducted in a manner and language understood by the affected workers.

Medical Removal of Symptomatic Employees

Employers will also be required to address the medical removal of employees with symptoms, undergoing testing, or otherwise requiring isolation:

  • Employers must provide information about any paid leave to which employees would be entitled by company policy as well as under the Federal Families First Coronavirus Relief Act (FFCRA).
  • Whenever a medical provider or public health official recommends isolation or quarantine, the worker(s) must be reassigned to duties that do not involve in-person contact. Such reassignment must continue until the need no longer exists, based on guidance from the medical provider or involved public health officials.
  • To the degree reassignment is not possible, the employer must allow workers to use leave to which they are entitled under the FFCRA. If the employer is not covered by the FFCRA or has previously opted out of the paid sick leave provisions of the FFCRA, then the employer must provide up to two weeks of paid reassignment leave in addition to whatever benefits to which the worker would otherwise be entitled. (There are two exceptions to this requirement.)
  • Employees who are reassigned for medical removal reasons are entitled to return to their previous job duties without any adverse action as a result of the medical removal.

Public Comments

Oregon OSHA is accepting public comments on the proposal through Monday, September 7. Send comments via email to tech.web@oregon.gov. The full text of the draft rule may be found here. Background documents are available on the rulemaking overview page.

All Rights Reserved 2020 Beverly Michaelis

Phase One Guidelines for Reopening Your Law Firm

Last week we talked about considerations for reopening your law firm.

While some of Oregon’s most populous counties remain closed, most were cleared for a phase one reopening three days ago. As a result, we now have new resources for all businesses, including your firm.

The guidelines come from state and county health departments and include 15 documents you should download, read, physically post, and deploy in your office:

Your firm should develop written protocols regarding:

  • Recommendations or requirements for face masks for employees and clients/consumers 
  • Conducting daily health assessments for employees (self-evaluation) to determine if “fit for duty”
  • Maintaining good hygiene at all times, hand washing and physical distancing
  • Cleaning and sanitizing workplaces throughout the workday and at the close of business or between shifts
  • Limiting maximum capacity to meet physical distancing guidelines.

Client businesses can check for sector-specific guidance on the state webpage here.

Thank you, thank you, thank you to Deschutes County for publishing this helpful information.

Questions? Call your county health department.

For those of you continuing to work from home, watch for a post about tech and security next week.

All Rights Reserved 2020 Beverly Michaelis

Preparing to Reopen Your Law Firm

On May 7, 2020, Governor Brown announced new details on the phased reopening of businesses in Oregon. Decisions will be made on a county-by-county basis. Counties must apply to reopen and:

  • Show a decline in COVID-19 or have fewer than 5 hospitalizations
  • Have sufficient COVID-19 testing and contact tracing capability
  • Establish plans for the isolation and quarantine of new cases
  • Have the hospital capacity to handle any surge in COVID-19 cases
  • Have enough personal protective equipment for health care workers

What Should Law Firms Do?

Now is an excellent time to put your plan together for phased reopening.

Start with this very thoughtful post from Vinson & Elkins. Directed at clients, it also applies to law firms, who are – after all – businesses too.

It begins with identifying a return-to-work coordination team with the right members – HR, IT, finance, admin, and for law firms – lawyers and legal staff. As a group, the team addresses these issues:

  1. When will the office reopen?
  2. Who should work from the office?
  3. Should we screen employees for COVID-19 before they return?
  4. What new practices will be required to maintain social distancing and ensure a sanitary workplace?
  5. How will we handle individual employee requests?

The post suggests delegating responsibilities by department or floor. This could also be done based on the issue. Whatever makes sense for your firm. Most importantly, the team needs to communicate what will happen and when.

Remember the Clients

While social distancing and sanitizing will benefit clients, your return-to-work team should also consider:

  1. When will we resume in-person client meetings?
  2. What new practices will be required for in-person meetings?
  3. How should we communicate about COVID-related client procedures?

Permitting in-person meetings may mean:

  • Redesigning your reception area
  • Staggering client meeting times
  • Limiting non-client visitors
  • Requiring face coverings
  • Sanitizing client property delivered to the firm

More Resources

A Google search reveals a plethora of return-to-work resources from law firms directed at clients, such as the return-to-work coordination team described above. Three particularly useful reads are the Reopening Issues Checklist, the Checklist for Health and Safety Planning, and 10 issues to consider offered by the Society for Human Resource Management.

All Rights Reserved 2020 Beverly Michaelis

 

 

COVID19 Impacts Oregon Legal Community

Author’s Note: Court, Oregon State Bar, and PLF operations have changed since this post was published.

See: Court Operations Restricted, Statewide Postponements, OSB and PLF Closures.

COVID19 and the Oregon Legal Community

In a recent NW Sidebar post, the Washington State Bar Association explores whether the legal profession is ready for a pandemic. The upshot? Take COVID19 seriously and prepare now:

  • Create a list of important emergency numbers that can be quickly accessed in printed and electronic form.
  • Establish remote access to critical client records.
  • Prioritize your firm’s functions by criticality.
  • Have a “go kit” of technology, files, and other necessities if you need to work from home.
  • Review the answers to frequently asked questions published on the Oregon State Bar website.

For a complete list of suggested steps, see the ABA booklet Surviving a Disaster and resources from the Professional Liability Fund [Select “Disaster Response and Recovery” under Practice Management > Forms.]

For COVID19 specifically:

  • Ensure the workplace is clean and hygienic with surfaces regularly wiped down with disinfectant.
  • Promote hand-washing at the office with posters and other communication. And make sure visiting clients have places wash their hands with soap and water.
  • Brief staff and clients if COVID-19 starts spreading locally.
  • Direct anyone in the office with even a mild cough or low-grade fever (99 degrees F or more) to stay home, and make clear to employees that they will be able to count this time off as sick leave.

Law Firms Taking Action

On March 6, Reuters Legal reported that the Seattle office of K&L Gates has asked employees to work from home. Will Oregon firms follow suit, as the need arises? We should.

Status of Oregon State Bar and Professional Liability Fund Services

Meanwhile, the Oregon State Bar issued the following statement appearing on its home page:

As of March 12, Gov. Kate Brown has banned gatherings of more than 250 people within Oregon through April 8. Social distancing can reduce transmission of the virus, helping to delay and slow the spread of the COVID-19. The OSB will continue to monitor and follow recommendations from authorities and has already taken steps to reduce our own community impact. Our goal is to support and protect the well-being of our members and the public we all serve.

All live events, in-person CLEs, and in-person counseling services available through the Oregon State Bar, Professional Liability Fund, and Oregon Attorney Assistance Program are cancelled. Oregon lawyers can access practice management assistance and attorney assistance programs via phone, email, and video conferencing.

Court Operations

Check your local circuit court to learn how court operations are being affected in your area. Multnomah County Circuit Court has postponed trials, hearings, and arraignments. Check court websites frequently for further announcements. Be sure to scroll down to the heading “Latest News.” Read the guidelines issued by Chief Justice Walters here.

Workers Comp Board

All in-person hearings and mediations at all WCB locations have been cancelled. The WCB expects to resume hearings and mediations on Monday, March 30, 2020. Lawyers who have an urgent need on a particular case are directed to contact the assigned ALJ or mediator.

In addition, several health insurance companies have agreed to waive co-pays, co-insurance, and deductibles for COVID-19 testing. Visit the WCB COVID-19 page to learn more about the agreement and review frequently asked insurance and financial questions.

Act Now

You’ll be glad you did.

All Rights Reserved Beverly Michaelis 2020

How to Terminate an Employee the Right Way

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Let’s face it, no organization is immune from having to make the tough decision to terminate an employee. Of course no one likes to do it, but that still leaves the real question of how and when you should do it? This is especially true for lawyers beginning a new practice or expanding their existing practice…

via Breaking Up Is Hard to Do: How to Terminate an Employee the Right Way.

Assuming the employee has not committed an act that warrants immediate termination, consider these suggestions from the post referenced above:

  • Document, Document, Document: Scrupulously document disciplinary issues (if it’s not documented, it’s as if it didn’t happen).
  • Start with Warnings: When addressing performance issues, consider using a progressive disciplinary approach: For example, an escalating series of verbal, written, and other more serious notifications to the employee so they can attempt to improve their performance. However, this would not apply to serious performance breaches, nor for new employees who clearly don’t have the skills for the job.
  • Be Consistent: Take the same disciplinary approach for all employees—being mindful of each individual’s unique background and characteristics such as race; color; religion; pregnancy; gender identity; sexual orientation; national origin; age, 40 or older; disability, visible or invisible; or genetic information.
  • Document Some More: Always document the termination with a concise termination memo. If you do not provide the reason(s) for termination, the employee might assume the actual reason for their discharge was due to whatever protected category applies to them, such as race, gender, or age.
  • Don’t Waver: In the termination meeting, be professional but firm in your decision. The termination memo should do much of the talking for you.
  • Stick to the Script: Do NOT say anything different to the employee than what’s included in the termination memo—this is not the time to be overly reassuring and retreat from the true reasons for discharging the employee.
  • Go in as a Team: Try to have a manager who knows the employee present for the termination. A team approach—two management representatives, or a management representative and a human resources representative, or a management representative and a career counselor, etc.—is preferable because one person can take notes and there will be more than one witness to confirm what is said.

The Professional Liability Fund offers a Checklist for Departing Staff and sample office manuals, which may be helpful. From the home page, select Practice Management > Forms and peruse the “Staff” and “Office Manuals” categories.

All Rights Reserved 2019 Beverly Michaelis