Has Your Business Updated Its Office Safety Plans Based on the Latest NYS Guidance?

By Joseph S. Brown, Esq.

New York continues to update its industry reopening guidance available on the New York Forward page.  Many businesses that developed office safety plans in earlier phases of the reopening in May and June may not have realized that New York updated its guidance as recently as June 26, 2020.  By way of example, the guidance for Office-Based Work in Phase 2 was originally issued on May 28, 2020.   Many offices prepared their safety plans with that guidance in mind.  But that guidance was quietly updated in June, most recently on June 26. 

The updated guidance states that “where guidance in this document differs from other guidance documents issued by New York State, the more recent guidance shall apply.”  While much of the guidance remains similar, there are certain requirements that have been removed and/or revised. As a result, many businesses may need to update their safety plan documents to come into compliance. 

This alert summarizes some of the key differences between the office-based guidance issued on May 28 and the updated guidance on June 26.  Businesses should check the date at the top of the guidance to determine when it was last updated for their industry.

Required Signage

The interim guidance for Office-Based Work requires business to have appropriate signage on several topics such as hygiene and physical distancing.  The updated guidance now requires signage on a new topic: “Follow appropriate respiratory hygiene and cough etiquette.”  The CDC website has a variety of COVID-19 posters available to download at no cost.  The NYS Department of Health also has posters available.

Businesses should make sure they have complied with these requirements and document any changes along the way.

CDC Symptoms of Coronavirus

The updated Office-Based Guidance directs businesses to the CDC guidance on “Symptoms of Coronavirus” for the most up to date information on symptoms associated with COVID-19, whereas the earlier version simply gave a description of symptoms.  Businesses should take note that the CDC recently added new symptoms to the list:  congestion or runny nose, nausea, and diarrhea. 

As a result, businesses who developed screening forms and procedures based on previous CDC guidance should consider adding these symptoms to their screening protocols.

Return to Work Following Exposure or Infection

Perhaps the biggest change to the guidance is in the protocol standards for returning to work following exposure or COVID-19 infection in the workplace.    The earlier version of the office-based guidance required a 14-day self-quarantine for a variety of scenarios with directions to follow CDC guidance in a situation where the business deemed an employee or visitor “critical to the operation or safety of a site.”  The updated guidance scrapped that protocol and now refers to the New York State Department of Health (DOH) issued “Interim Guidance for Public and Private Employees Returning to Work Following COVID-19 Infection or Exposure.”  The DOH guidance is now referenced in all of the New York Forward industry specific guidance.

The CDC and DOH guidance are consistent in many ways, however, it is important to note that DOH guidance and the CDC guidance have some differences.  By way of example, the DOH guidance, provides if a close contact is experiencing COVID-19 related symptoms, they may return to work upon completing at least 10 days of isolation from the onset of symptoms.   In contrast, the CDC says a close contact that is not showing any symptoms should stay home until 14 days after the last exposure.  As a result, businesses with safety plans based on previous NY Forward guidance may need to reevaluate and modify their safety protocols for returning to work.

In sum, the reopening guidance from the state and federal authorities continues to evolve on a rapid basis.  It is imperative to have someone in your organization tasked with tracking the latest developments and regularly updating your business safety plan in order to promote a safe workplace and limit potential liability.

Hurwitz & Fine continues to monitor and analyze these updates and advise employers on matters related to the coronavirus outbreak.  Please contact any member of the firm’s Labor & Employment team for guidance on these evolving issues at 716-849-8900, by e-mail, or visiting our website at www.hurwitzfine.com.

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