District of Columbia Issues Phase Two Guidance for Reopening Office Buildings

July 1, 2020
On June 22, 2020, the District of Columbia entered Phase Two of its reopening, which, among other things, permits office buildings to reopen. The District of Columbia has issued guidance for office buildings to “assist office building owners, managers, and employers in the reopening process.” The guidance describes measures that should be implemented “[p]rior to moving from a closed, telework, or minimum business operations only posture” to help reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission amongst employees, visitors, and the community.
Preparing for Reopening
To the extent consistent with business operations, businesses should continue to allow telework. Businesses that do reopen their workplaces are responsible for providing a safe and healthy workplace, including by:
  • Conducting a thorough assessment of the workplace to identify potential workplace hazards that could increase risks for COVID-19 transmission.
  • Creating a COVID-19 workplace health and safety plan for their office(s).
  • Including all employees (e.g., management, staff, relief employees, janitorial staff and supervisory staff) in communication plans.
    • If contractors are employed in the workplace, developing plans to communicate with the contracting company regarding modifications to work processes and requirements for the contractors to prevent transmission of COVID-19.
  • Reviewing the CDC Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers which contains detailed recommendations that all employers can use to protect their workers and clients.
  • If the building was closed for an extended period of time, following CDC guidance for checking HVAC systems and ensuring all water systems are safe to use.
  • Ensuring that ventilation systems work properly, and increasing air circulation as much as possible by opening windows and doors, using fans, and other methods, if doing so is safe and not detrimental to the building’s HVAC systems.
  • Creating a comprehensive plan for cleaning and disinfecting high touch surfaces (e.g., workstations, keyboards, telephones, handrails, printer/copiers, drinking fountains and doorknobs and restrooms) routinely throughout the day.
Taking Everyday Prevention Measures
Employers should take everyday prevention measures to avoid the spread of COVID-19 in office buildings, including the following:
  • Employees should stay at home if sick or recently exposed to someone with COVID-19.
  • Employees should maintain at least six feet from other people when possible.
  • Employees and visitors should wear a cloth face covering at all times in all areas of the business where they are likely to come within six feet of another person.
  • Even if employees have returned to work, promote use of phone and conference calls rather than face-to-face meetings.
  • Close off seating in common areas so that employees do not linger together, or allow one person at a time to be seated unless the seats are at least six feet apart.
  • Gloves should be worn only as indicated per routine job responsibilities.
  • Perform frequent hand hygiene (with soap and water or alcohol-based hand sanitizer).
Considerations for Employers
Other considerations for employers reopening office buildings include:
  • Performing screening of employees daily, prior to entering the business, over the phone or in person.
  • Providing supplies to allow for frequent hand hygiene (e.g., soap and water or alcohol-based hand sanitizers with at least 60% alcohol) at each workstation and in customer areas (e.g., waiting areas).
  • Modifying or adjusting seats, furniture, and workstations to maintain social distancing of six feet between employees.
  • Identifying work and common areas where employees could have close contact (within six feet) with others and implementing interventions to facilitate social distancing in these locations.
    • Installing floor decals and visual markers as needed to promote physical distancing in the building (including in work areas and other areas such as meeting rooms, break rooms, parking lots, entrance and exit areas, and locker rooms).
    • Replacing high-touch communal items, such as coffee pots, water coolers, and bulk or buffet-style snacks and meals, with alternatives such as pre-packaged, single-serving items and automatic water bottle refilling stations, and allowing employees to bring their own personal coffee pots or hot water heaters if safety permits.
  • Considering implementation of staff rotations or shifts for workers returning to commercial offices, such as grouping employees into A and B cohorts that use facilities at different times and do not overlap.
  • Staggering break times as feasible to reduce the density of employees in common areas such as break rooms.
  • Providing employees adequate time to wash their hands and access to soap, clean water, and single use paper towels.
  • Providing staff with face masks or cloth face coverings as well as instructions on their safe use.
  • Implementing leave policies that are flexible and non-punitive, and that allow sick employees to stay home. Keeping abreast of current law, including reviewing amendments to both the DC Family and Medical Leave Act and the DC Sick and Safe Leave Law, which created new categories of leave, like Declared Emergency Leave.
    • Leave policies should also account for employees who need to stay home with their children if there are school or childcare closures, or to care for sick family members.
    • Learning about and informing employees about COVID-related leave provided through new federal law, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (“FFCRA”). and all applicable District law relating to sick leave. Our prior memoranda on FFCRA leave can be found here and here
  • Educating employees about COVID-19.
  • Posting signs in parking areas and entrances that ask guests and visitors to wear cloth face coverings if possible, to not enter the building if they are sick, and to stay six feet away from employees, if possible.
  • Considering denying admission to someone who refuses to wear a mask, unless a mask is not recommended due to a medical condition.
  • Not assuming that workers who are over 65 have a disability for purposes of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Our prior memorandum on this topic can be found here.
Establishing a Plan for COVID-19 Exposure
Employers should also establish a plan in the event that an employee or visitor is diagnosed with COVID-19, including by:
  • Having a plan in place for an individual who develops symptoms during the workday to immediately isolate, notify their supervisor, and leave the facility.
  • Identifying a point of contact who an employee can notify if they test positive for COVID-19 and choose to disclose this information.
  • If an employee chooses to report to the establishment that they are positive for COVID-19, having a notification process to share:
    • Education about COVID-19, including the signs and symptoms of COVID-19;
    • Referral to the Guidance for Contacts of a Person Confirmed to have COVID-19, available at https://coronavirus.dc.gov/; and
    • Information on options for COVID-19 testing in the District of Columbia, available at https://coronavirus.dc.gov/testing.
  • If an employee notifies the employer they tested positive for COVID-19 and the employee had extensive contact with patrons/visitors or if a patron/visitor notifies the employer they tested positive for COVID-19, then the establishment should notify DC Health by emailing [email protected] with the following information:
    • "COVID-19 Consult” in the email subject line;
    • Name and direct phone number of the best point of contact at the establishment for DC Health to return the call;
    • Estimated number of patrons/visitors potentially exposed; and
    • Short summary of incident/situation
Our previous 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.