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

COVID Face Masks Now Required in Private Law Offices

Throughout Oregon’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak private offices have been exempt from face covering requirements, provided employees had no public-facing interaction. That changed on Friday, August 14, 2020:

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown Friday issued new guidance regarding face coverings in office spaces.

The guidance requires people to wear face coverings or face shields in private and public office spaces. Face coverings are required in any areas where 6 feet of distance from other people cannot be maintained such as bathrooms, hallways, elevators and break rooms.

The guidance provides an exception, allowing people to remove their face coverings briefly in situations where someone’s identity needs to be confirmed — such as in banks or in interactions with law enforcement.

Source: OPB Live Updates

If your employees are back in the office, send out an immediate push notification or email regarding this requirement and how it will be implemented in your firm.

Many resources may be found on the state’s COVID web pages, including:

Please note these resources will require updating following Friday’s new mandate.

Office Shares

If you are in an office share, remember you are required maintain six (6) feet of physical distance at all times. Maximum occupancy of the space is determined by allowing
35 square feet per person.

Permitted Face Coverings

In lieu of a mask, a face shield that covers the forehead, extends below the chin, and wraps around the sides of the face is perfectly acceptable. Most face shields do not meet this last requirement, so be careful when selecting shields as an option.

Am I Required to Provide Face Coverings for Employees?

As an employer you may be required to provide face coverings for your employees. Do your research. Contact your local health department for further information.

All Rights Reserved 2020 Beverly Michaelis

 

What We Know Now About COVID-19

The science around COVID-19 is changing so fast that even the valid-but-evolving research findings seem to blend in with the misinformation coming in from all sides.

Learn what scientists are saying now about how the coronavirus is spread, whether to wear a mask, who is at risk, and social distancing – all courtesy of Oregon Public Broadcasting.

Curious about how a vaccine would work? Check out this video

OSB COVID-19 Response

For the latest information from the Oregon State Bar, visit the COVID-19 Response page.

On that note, the OSB needs bar exam proctors to staff four separate exam sites in Portland, Salem, and Eugene. Applicants will be separated into multiple rooms at each location.

If you are available July 28 and/or July 29 and would like to serve as a proctor, complete the OSB Bar Exam Proctor application form, which includes descriptions of proctor responsibilities and requirements.

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