COVID-19: Massachusetts Issues Updated Guidance for Office Spaces and Laboratories

COVID-19: Massachusetts Issues Updated Guidance for Office Spaces and Laboratories

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On July 6, Massachusetts released new guidance for employers as the state transitioned into Phase III of its reopening plan.  Among the safety protocols for businesses including barber shops, fitness centers, and retail establishments, the state issued updated guidance for Office Spaces and Laboratories.  The sector-specific safety standards for office spaces and laboratories, which are organized into four categories covering Social Distancing, Hygiene Protocols, Staffing and Operations, and Cleaning and Disinfecting, mostly reiterate requirements laid out in previous guidance, but there are some important changes.

Most significantly, for both office spaces and laboratories, employers are now required to screen workers before each shift.  Employers must ensure that workers are not experiencing any symptoms related to COVID-19, including fever (100.0 and above) or chills, cough, shortness of breath, sore throat, fatigue, headache, muscle/body aches, runny nose/congestion, new loss of taste or smell, or nausea, vomiting or diarrhea.  Employers must also ensure that workers have not been in close contact with an individual diagnosed with COVID-19, or been asked by a doctor or local public health official to self-isolate or quarantine.  Workers who fail to satisfy the screening criteria must be denied entry to the facility and sent home.  Although the updated office and laboratory protocols do not specifically address whether an employer can fulfill the screening mandate by requiring employees to self-screen, they do require that employers train employees on how to conduct a self-screening at home.  It is also notable that the screening process for State employees is comprised of a self-certification by employees with respect to their body temperature and other criteria.  Until and unless additional guidance is issued, employers are advised to adopt a screening process that – at a minimum – requires daily self-screening and attestation by employees.  

The updated office space guidance also revises the capacity limitations.  Prior guidance for Phase 2 Step 2, effective June 22, required that businesses limit occupancy within their office space to the greater of 50% of (a) the maximum occupancy level specified in any certificate of occupancy or similar permit or as provided for under the state building code; or (b) the business or organization’s typical occupancy as of March 1, 2020.  The new guidance drops the second option and states that office space must be limited to 50% of the building’s maximum permitted occupancy as documented in its occupancy permit on record with the municipal building department or other municipal record holder.  If a building does not have a permitted occupancy limitation on record, the employer may allow 10 persons per 1,000 square feet of accessible space.  The new guidance also adds that – in addition to the general occupancy limitations – no enclosed space within the facility may exceed occupancy of 10 persons per 1,000 square feet.  Consistent with previous guidance, businesses may exceed the capacity limitations for office space if they can demonstrate a need for relief based on public safety considerations or where strict compliance would interfere with the continued delivery of critical services.

The new guidance for laboratories includes more detailed training requirements.  Whereas previous guidance noted that employers must provide workers with training on up-to-date safety information and precautions, the updated guidance includes a list of specific required training topics.  These topics (which track previous training requirements for offices) include proper use of face coverings, self-screening at home, when to seek medical attention, and which underlying health conditions may make a person more vulnerable to COVID-19.  The same list of training topics remains included in the guidance for office spaces.

Additional changes applicable to both office spaces and laboratories:

  • Employers are encouraged to have workers continue to telework if feasible.  Previous guidance stated that workers must continue to telework where feasible.
  • Cafeterias may reopen for in-person dining as long as they follow the latest restaurant guidance.  Previously, cafeterias were limited to take-out food only.
  • Hand sanitizers should be made available at entrances and throughout floor areas for workers.

Additional changes for office spaces:

  • Contact tracing logs should include the name, date, time, and contact information of all workers and customers who come on site.
  • Designate water fountains as refill stations only and workers should be instructed to bring their own water bottles.
  • Mark rooms and hallways to indicate 6 feet of separation.
  • Frequently clean commonly touched surfaces in restrooms (e.g., toilet seats, doorknobs, stall handles, sinks, paper towel dispensers, soap dispensers).
  • Open windows and doors to increase airflow where possible.

Additional changes for laboratories:

  • Install visual social distancing markers to encourage workers to remain 6 feet apart.
  • Establish directional pathways to manage worker flow for foot traffic.

The WilmerHale Labor and Employment team will continue to monitor these developments and is available to provide specific guidance to employers as they resume on-site operations.  

 

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