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

Training Staff in Small Bites

Getting someone’s attention is tough. Keeping it is even tougher. So why not adapt?

When setting up a training program for staff, offer content that is easily digestible:

  • Choose a theme
  • Set a training period
  • Collect content
  • Divide the content into segments
  • Keep each segment short and limited to one topic

For example, you could designate July as “security” month and distribute brief training segments every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Choosing a strong password, avoiding phishing scams, and working remotely could be your first three topics.

Why This Approach?

I’ve been training lawyers and staff for decades. We belong to a profession that values continuing education, but we’re also busy and under pressure. When you distill information it is easier to absorb. Keeping it short means the listener or reader can get what they need and move on with their day.

Where Can I Find Content?

Look to your favorite law blogs. Besides yours truly, Attorney at Work, Lawyerist, and others listed by the ABA Journal are a good start.

Law Practice Today is another great resource. They do themed issues, which makes finding relevant content easier. Access the archives here.

Also see Law Technology Today. Specifically their videos and “quick tips.”

Depending on the topics you wish to address, bar and other professional publications can be helpful too.

Get Staff Involved

While you undoubtedly have some topics in mind, be sure to illicit ideas from staff. What would they like to see covered? Know more about? Ask for their tips or delegate content research to spread the load. Training doesn’t have to be a one-person act.

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

Breaking News: eFile & Serve Upgrade Postponed – Webinars Coming on UTCR Amendments Allowing Remote Hearings and Expanding eSignatures

Register here for the Webinars and pass on this news!

Court Operations Update

Trials and hearings likely to be postponed at least through April

Message from Chief Justice Walters, March 24, 2020