Governor Newsom Announces Offices May Reopen As California Progresses Further Into Phase 2 Reopening; State Guidelines and Any More Restrictive Local Requirements Still Apply
California Governor Gavin Newsom announced today, May 12, that offices may soon begin to reopen as the State progresses further into Phase 2 of the statewide COVID-19 re-opening. While the Governor’s announcement did not specify the precise date when offices of non-essential businesses may reopen, businesses that intend to reopen should begin preparing now so that they can hit the ground running while meeting the new guidelines and requirements. The Governor cautioned, however, that local county and city governments have the option to decide whether to retain or implement more restrictive requirements, and they do not necessarily need to allow offices to reopen on the same timeline as the State. Accordingly, in addition to consulting the State’s new office re-opening guidelines, businesses looking to re-open their offices must also determine whether they are restricted by local orders or requirements.
In addition to offices, this stage of the State’s Phase 2 reopening plan also allows for certain retail business to reopen with limitations, including “bookstores, jewelry stores, toy stores, clothing and shoe stores, home and furnishing stores, sporting goods stores, and florists.” The Governor also said that restaurants may soon be allowed to open for dine-in service, with restrictions (click here for restaurant reopening guidelines and here for restaurant reopening check-list). Shopping malls may soon be allowed to open for pick-up only (click here for retail reopening guidelines and here for retail reopening checklist). And botanical gardens, car washes, pet grooming services, and dog walking services may also soon be allowed to open.
Life for reopened office workers will look much different than it did before the pandemic. To that end, the State has issued guidelines of what office employers can expect.
Under the State guidelines, employers should be prepared in general to implement and ensure the following:
- Physical distancing to the maximum extent possible;
- Use of face coverings by employees and customers/clients;
- Frequent hand-washing and regular cleaning and disinfection; and
- Training of employees on these and other elements of the COVID-19 prevention plan.
Office employers should also draft a written plan for how they will implement and ensure COVID-19 protections. This means that employers should “[e]stablish a written, worksite-specific COVID-19 prevention plan at every office location, perform a comprehensive risk assessment of all work areas, and designate a person at each office workspace to implement the plan.” Businesses should also “[r]egularly evaluate the office workspace for compliance with the plan and document and correct deficiencies identified.”
Businesses should investigate any instances of “COVID-19 illness and determine if any work-related factors could have contributed to risk of infection [and u]pdate the plan as needed to prevent further cases.” Further, employers should implement routine training and reminders for all employees to be aware of how to limit the spread of COVID-19. And businesses in jurisdictions that require written Social Distancing Protocols should also prepare, implement, and post their Protocol in accordance with applicable local orders.
Employers should also be prepared to “[p]rovide temperature and/or symptom screenings for all workers at the beginning of their shift and any personnel entering the facility.” It is also the employer’s responsibility to “provide and ensure workers use all required protective equipment.”
Further, employers should adhere to strict cleaning and sanitizing regimens, and implement and enforce social distancing guidelines. This may include redesigning “office spaces, cubicles, etc. and decrease the capacity for conference and meeting to ensure workplaces allow for six feet between employees.” Common areas should be closed or restricted, as well as any areas where employees are likely to congregate, “such as kitchenettes and break rooms.” Employers will want to consider staggered scheduling, “establishing alternating days for onsite reporting, returning to the office workspace in phases, or continued use of telework when feasible.” Nonessential travel should still be avoided.
The State guidelines warn that failure to adhere to the guidelines “could result in workplace illness that may cause operations to be temporarily closed or limited.”
Governor Newsom hesitated to give concrete timelines on when the State will move to the next phase of reopening, but he has signaled that the move from Phase 2 to Phase 3 may happen relatively quickly, stating that “Phase 3 is not a year away. It’s not six months away. It’s not even three months away. It may not even be more than a month away.”
As noted above, it is important to continue to also monitor county and other local jurisdictions where your business is located and comply with any more restrictive timelines, requirements, and/or guidelines that those local jurisdictions may have in place or implement in the future. Office employers in the Bay Area and Southern California in particular may face more restrictive measures that prohibit non-essential offices from reopening on the same timeline or terms as those in other parts of the state. Regardless, employers across the state should ensure that they are following the most restrictive of the guidelines or orders that apply to them—taking into account all county, city, and local restrictions—to ensure compliance with the law.
Conclusion and Next Steps
As California gears up to begin allowing office employers to reopen facilities, employers should use the opportunity now to begin preparing for reopening. For more information on the material covered by this alert, consult this State Guidance and this State Checklist.
If you have any questions or concerns about how to prepare for reopening your office, please contact the authors of this article or the other attorneys at AALRR who can provide advice and consult in your particular circumstances.
This AALRR publication is intended for informational purposes only and should not be relied upon in reaching a conclusion in a particular area of law. Applicability of the legal principles discussed may differ substantially in individual situations. Receipt of this or any other AALRR publication does not create an attorney-client relationship. The Firm is not responsible for inadvertent errors that may occur in the publishing process.
©2020 Atkinson, Andelson, Loya, Ruud & Romo