California’s COVID-19 Industry Guidance for Reopening Office Workspaces

July 6, 2020
Under California’s reopening plan, California counties can reopen as they meet certain metrics. Parts of California are currently in Stage 2 of the previously issued Resilience Roadmap. During Stage 2, certain lower-risk workplaces can reopen with adaptations, including: retail, manufacturing, offices (when telework is not possible), outdoor museums and limited personal services. If a business is permitted to reopen, it must follow California’s statewide industry-specific guidance. To date, California has issued industry-specific guidance for: agriculture and livestock; auto dealerships; child care; communications infrastructure; construction; delivery services; energy and utilities; food packing; hotels and lodging; life sciences; limited services; logistics and warehousing facilities; manufacturing; mining and logging; outdoor museums; office workspaces; places of worship; ports; public transit and intercity passenger rail; real estate transaction; retail; and shopping centers. A more detailed summary of the guidance for office workspaces follows.
In addition, certain counties, including Los Angeles County, have filed county variance attestation forms and received state approval to move faster into Stage 2 and reopen more workplaces, including destination retail, dine-in restaurants, and schools with modifications. San Francisco County has not yet filed a county variance attestation form.
Reopening Requirements
In order to reopen, a business or workplace must be within an industry that is permitted to reopen by both California and the applicable county. Before reopening, all facilities must:
  1. Perform a detailed risk assessment and implement a site-specific protection plan.
  2. Train employees on how to limit the spread of COVID-19, including how to screen themselves for symptoms and stay home if they are symptomatic.
  3. Implement individual control measures and screenings.
  4. Implement disinfecting protocols.
  5. Implement physical distancing guidelines.
Guidance Specific to Office Workspaces
Currently, California only permits the reopening of offices when telework is not possible. California’s industry guidance for office workspaces includes a general checklist for office workspaces and detailed industry guidance. California’s guidance specifically provides “guidance for businesses operating in office workspaces to support a safe, clean environment for employees.” Businesses “may use effective alternative or innovative methods to build upon the guidelines.” The guidance is not a substitute for any existing safety and health-related regulatory requirements such as those of the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health nor is it intended to revoke or repeal any employee rights, either statutory, regulatory or collectively bargained. The guidance is also non-exhaustive as it does not include county health orders. Employers are advised to stay current on changes to public health guidance and state/local orders, including the California Department of Public Health’s guidance regarding COVID-19 outbreaks in the workplace, as the COVID-19 situation continues.

Worksite Specific Plan
With respect to developing worksite specific plans, California provides the following guidance for employers to follow:
  • Establish 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.
  • Identify contact information for the local health department where the facility is located for communicating information about COVID-19 outbreaks among employees.
  • Train employees and employee representatives on the plan.
  • Regularly evaluate the office workspace for compliance with the plan and document and correct deficiencies identified.
  • Investigate any COVID-19 illness, determine if any work-related factors could have contributed to the risk of infection, and update the plan as needed to prevent further cases.
  • Identify close contacts (those within six feet for 15 minutes or more) of an infected employee and take steps to isolate COVID-19 positive employee(s) and close contacts.
  • Adhere to the guidelines below. Failure to do so could result in workplace illnesses that may cause operations to be temporarily closed or limited.
Employee Training
California’s guidance provides that employers should train employees on the elements of their COVID-19 prevention plans, including on the topics listed below.
  • Information on COVID-19, how to prevent it from spreading, and which underlying health conditions may make individuals more susceptible to contracting the virus.
  • How to conduct self-screening at home, including temperature and/or symptom checks using CDC guidelines.
  • The importance of not coming to work if employees have a frequent cough, fever, difficulty breathing, chills, muscle pain, headache, sore throat, recent loss of taste or smell, or if they or someone they live with have been diagnosed with COVID-19.
  • To seek medical attention if their symptoms become severe, including trouble breathing, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, confusion, or bluish lips or face. Updates and further details on emergency warning signs for COVID-19 are available on the CDC’s webpage.
  • The importance of frequent handwashing with soap and water, including scrubbing with soap for 20 seconds (or using hand sanitizer with at least 60% ethanol or 70% isopropanol when employees cannot get to a sink or handwashing station, per CDC guidelines).
  • The importance of physical distancing, both at work and outside of work.
  • Proper use of face coverings, including:
    • Face coverings do not protect the wearer and are not personal protective equipment (“PPE”).
    • Face coverings can help protect people near the wearer, but do not replace the need for physical distancing and frequent handwashing.
    • Employees should wash or sanitize hands before and after using or adjusting face coverings.
    • Avoid touching eyes, nose, and mouth.
    • Face coverings should be washed after each shift.
  • Information on employer or government-sponsored leave benefits the employee may be entitled to receive that would make it financially easier to stay at home.
  • Employers should also ensure that temporary or contract workers at the facility are properly trained in COVID-19 prevention policies and have necessary PPE.
    • Discuss these responsibilities ahead of time with organizations supplying temporary and/or contract workers.
Individual Control Measures and Screening
With respect to individual control measures and screening, California provides the following guidance for employers to follow:
  • Provide temperature and/or symptom screenings for all workers at the beginning of their shift and for any vendors, contractors, or other workers entering the establishment.
    • Make sure the temperature/symptom screener avoids close contact with workers to the extent possible.
    • Both screeners and employees should wear face coverings for the screening.
  • If requiring self-screening at home, ensure that screening was performed prior to the worker leaving the home for their shift and follows CDC guidelines.
  • Encourage workers who are sick or exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 to stay home. Employers experiencing a COVID-19 outbreak in the workplace should consult the California Department of Public Health’s guidance on outbreak management.
  • Employers should provide and ensure workers use all required protective equipment.
  • Employers should consider where disposable glove use may be helpful to supplement frequent handwashing or use of hand sanitizer such as for workers who are screening others for symptoms or handling commonly touched items.
  • Face coverings are strongly recommended when employees are in the vicinity of others.
    • Workers should have face coverings available and wear them when at work, in offices, or in a vehicle during work-related travel with others.
    • Face coverings must not be shared.
  • Employers must take reasonable measures to remind workers that they should use face coverings.
Cleaning and Disinfecting Protocols
With respect to cleaning and disinfecting protocols, California provides the following guidance for employers to follow:
  • Perform thorough cleaning on high traffic areas such as break rooms, lunch areas, stairways, escalators, handrails, and elevator controls.
    • Frequently disinfect commonly used surfaces including doorknobs, toilets, and handwashing facilities.
  • Provide time for workers to implement cleaning practices during their shift.
    • Cleaning assignments should be assigned during working hours as part of the employee’s job duties.
    • Adjust or modify hours to provide adequate time for regular thorough cleaning and disinfection of office spaces.
  • Avoid sharing phones, other work supplies, or office equipment wherever possible. Never share PPE.
    • Where such items must be shared, disinfect between shifts or uses, whichever is more frequent, including the following: shared office equipment such as copiers, fax machines, printers, telephones, keyboards, staplers, surfaces in reception areas, shared work stations, etc., with a cleaner appropriate for the surface.
  • Ensure that sanitary facilities stay operational and stocked at all times and provide additional soap, paper towels, and hand sanitizer when needed.
    • When choosing cleaning chemicals, employers should use product approved for use against COVID-19 on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-approved list and follow product instructions.
    • Provide employees training on manufacturer’s directions and Cal/OSHA requirements for safe use. Workers using cleaners or disinfectants should wear gloves as required by the product instructions.
  • Consider installing portable high-efficiency air cleaners, upgrading the building’s air filters to the highest efficiency possible, and making other modifications to increase the quantity of outside air and ventilation in offices and other spaces.
Physical Distancing Guidelines
With respect to physical distancing, California provides the following guidance for employers to follow:
  • Implement measures to ensure physical distancing of at least six feet between workers and customers.
    • This can include use of physical partitions or visual cues (e.g., floor markings or signs to indicate to where employees should stand).
  • Utilize telework options and modified work schedules.
  • Consider offering workers who request modified duties options that minimize their contact with customers and other employees (e.g., managing inventory or managing administrative needs through telework).
  • Redesign office spaces and cubicles and decrease the capacity for conference and meeting to ensure workspaces allow for six feet between employees.
    • Close or restrict common areas, using barriers, or increasing physical distance between tables/chairs where personnel are likely to congregate and interact, such as kitchenettes and break rooms.
    • Discourage employees from congregating in high traffic areas such as bathrooms, hallways, and stairwells.
    • Establish directional hallways and passageways for foot traffic, if possible, to eliminate employees from passing by one another.
    • Designate separate routes for entry and exit into office spaces to help maintain social distancing and lessen the instances of people closely passing each other.
  • Limit the number of individuals riding in an elevator and ensure the use of face coverings. Post signage regarding these policies.
  • Utilize work practices, when feasible and necessary, to limit the number of employees at the office at one time.
    • This may include scheduling (e.g., staggering start/end times), establishing alternating days for onsite reporting, returning to the office workspace in phases, or continued use of telework when feasible.
  • Stagger employee breaks, within compliance with wage and hour regulations, to maintain physical distancing protocols.
  • Discontinue nonessential travel and encourage distance meetings via phone and internet.
  • Require employees to avoid handshakes and similar greetings that break physical distance.
  • Dedicate staff to direct guests to meeting rooms upon entry to office space rather than congregating in lobbies or common areas.
  • Install production transfer-aiding materials, such as shelving and bulletin boards, to reduce person-to-person production hand-offs.  
As employers determine whether, when and how to reopen, they should consider the current guidance from California. In addition, our memorandum, EEOC Releases Updated Guidance to Employers Regarding ADA-Compliant Practices During the COVID-19 Crisis, contains further information about the use of temperature checks and COVID-19 testing by employers, and our memorandum COVID-19—Return-to-Work Considerations for Employers, contains information about other considerations for employers as they develop plans to reopen workplaces.
As the COVID-19 situation continues to develop, and federal, state, and local governments issue additional guidance, employers need to be cognizant of new guidance and requirements. For more information, please visit S&C’s page regarding Coronavirus updates.