Back to the Office: CDC Releases Guidance for Employers in Office Buildings

The CDC recently released guidance describing how employers in office buildings can implement procedures and take actions to create a safe and healthy workplace and protect employees and visitors.  This tailored guidance for employers in office buildings follows CDC’s general workplace guidance for all employers.  Below is a summary of the noteworthy provisions from the CDC’s recent guidance.

Before Resuming Business Operations

The CDC advises employers to check their office building before resuming business operations to confirm that the building is ready for occupancy:

      • Ensure that ventilation systems operate properly.
      • Increase circulation of outdoor air by opening windows and doors, using fans, and other methods.
      • Check for hazards associated with prolonged inactivity, such as mold growth, rodents or pests, or issues with stagnant water systems, and take appropriate remedial actions.

Changes to the Workplace

Since employers are responsible for providing a safe and healthy work environment, the CDC advises employers to conduct a hazard assessment to identify potential workplace hazards related to COVID-19 transmission.  The CDC provides several recommendations for adjusting the workplace and the way employees work to reduce transmission of COVID-19 within the office:

      • Employees should wear a cloth face covering in all areas of the business, unless they have trouble breathing, inability to tolerate wearing it, or are unable to remove it without assistance. The CDC stresses that wearing cloth face coverings does not replace the need to practice social distancing.
      • Adjust furniture and workstations to allow at least six feet of distance between employees. For example, the CDC advises that employers install transparent shields or other physical barriers where possible to separate individuals if social distancing is not possible.  In addition, employers can rearrange communal seating areas to maintain social distance.
      • Develop practices to physically separate employees in all areas of the office. For example, employers can use signs or tape on floors to indicate where employees should stand to maintain social distance when physical barriers are not possible.
      • Replace high-touch communal items (i.e. coffee pots, water coolers, and bulk snacks) with pre-packaged, single-serve alternatives. Employers should also use no-touch trash cans.
      • Consider conducting daily health checks (e.g. COVID-19 symptoms and/or temperature screening) of employees before they enter the office.
      • Stagger start times and break times to reduce the number of employees in common areas.
      • Prohibit handshaking, hugs, and fist bumps.
      • Limit use and occupancy of elevators to maintain social distancing.
      • Encourage the use of outdoor seating areas and social distancing for any small group activities such as lunches, breaks, and meetings.
      • Employees who appear to have symptoms upon arrival at work or who become sick during the workday should immediately be separated from others, provided a face mask (if not wearing one), and sent home with instructions on how to follow-up with their health care professional.
      • Post signs and reminders with instructions on hand hygiene, COVID-19 symptoms, and cough and sneeze etiquette.
      • Post signs in parking areas and entrances asking visitors to inform reception or security when they reach the facility so they can enter the building at staggered times, wear cloth face coverings, avoid entering the building if sick, and stay six feet away from others.
      • The CDC offers several recommendations to improve ventilation in office buildings, including increasing the percentage of outdoor air, increasing total airflow supply to occupied spaces, disabling demand-control ventilation (DCV) controls that reduce air supply based on temperature or occupancy, and using natural ventilation (i.e. opening windows if possible and safe).

Cleaning and Disinfecting

The CDC recommends that employers perform regular cleanings to reduce employee’s exposure to COVID-19 on surfaces:

      • Routinely clean all high-touch surfaces in the workplace, such as workstations, keyboards, telephones, handrails, printers/copiers, drinking fountains, and door handles.
      • Provide employees with disposable wipes and other cleaning supplies so that they can wipe down high-touch surfaces before each use.
      • Perform enhanced cleaning and disinfection after anyone suspected or confirmed to have COVID-19 has been in the workplace.

Commuting

Recognizing the difficulties of social distancing when commuting using public transportation or ride sharing, the CDC provides suggestions for minimizing exposure to COVID-19 during employees’ commutes:

      • Incentivize forms of transportation that minimize close contact with others, such as reimbursement for parking for driving to work alone.
      • Change work hours so employees can commute during off-peak times.

Employers should consider CDC’s recommendations—along with other federal, state, and local guidance—as they plan to return to their office buildings.