Updated: District of Columbia Issues Phase Two Guidance for Business Operations

May 26, 2021
May 26, 2021 Update. On May 21, 2021, the District of Columbia issued guidance on Business Operations, which states that, effective immediately, businesses are no longer required to implement restrictions to reduce the spread of COVID-19. The new guidance replaces all previous sector-specific guidance. The new guidance also describes best practices that businesses can follow to help reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission, including, among other things, implementing flexible leave policies, encouraging workers to get vaccinated, and educating employees on COVID-19.

Sick or Exposed Workers. The guidance provides the following best practices regarding sick workers or workers that have been exposed to COVID-19:
  • Actively encourage workers to stay home if they are sick.
  • Implement leave policies that are flexible and non-punitive.
  • Consider posting signage at the entrance stating that individuals with a fever or symptoms of COVID-19 are not permitted to enter the business.
  • Screening testing is generally not recommended. People who are fully vaccinated, or have tested positive for COVID-19 in the previous 90 days, should not participate in asymptomatic screening testing.
  • Establish a plan in the event a worker or patron is diagnosed with COVID-19. Any individual experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 or who is required to isolate or quarantine due to COVID-19 diagnosis or exposure must not work at or visit a business due to the risk of exposing others.
  • If a worker or patron develops any symptoms of COVID-19 while at the facility, businesses should have a plan in place for that individual to immediately isolate, notify his or her supervisor (if the individual is an employee), and leave the premises.
  • Testing should be strongly encouraged for staff with symptoms consistent with COVID-19.
  • Consider keeping a record of workers and patrons who have visited the business or attended an event in the last 30 days to assist with contact tracing.
  • Identify a point of contact at the establishment who a worker or patron can notify if they test positive for COVID-19 and choose to disclose this information.
  • If a staff member or patron chooses to report to the business that they are positive for COVID-19, the business should have a notification process to share information on COVID-19 and testing in the District of Columbia.
     
    • If two or more workers test positive for COVID-19 within a 14-day period, businesses must provide worker information, when available, to DC Health if requested to assist with contact tracing.

Vaccination. The guidance states that businesses should actively encourage and consider incentivizing workers to get vaccinated. The guidance recommends that businesses support employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine by providing leave options to get the vaccine and leave options if employees experience common vaccine side effects.

Communication and Operations. The guidance provides the following recommendations on how businesses can manage communication and operations during the COVID-19 pandemic:
  • Educate workers about COVID-19, and how they can protect themselves at work and outside of work.
  • Consider conducting a thorough assessment of the workplace to identify potential workplace hazards that could increase risks for COVID-19 transmission.
  • Create a COVID-19 workplace health and safety plan for the business.
  • Include all workers in communication plans.
  • Consider designating an individual at the business to be the point of contact for all COVID-19-related questions and concerns. Make sure all workers know who this person is and how to contact them.
  • Account for non-English speaking workers in their communication plans and provide information in appropriate languages.
  • Stay well-informed regarding current law, which has amended both the DC Family and Medical Leave Act and the DC Sick and Safe Leave Law and created whole new categories of leave, such as Declared Emergency Leave.
  • Inform employees about COVID-19-related leave provided through new federal law, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (“FFCRA”), and all applicable District of Columbia law relating to sick leave. Our prior memoranda on FFCRA leave can be found here and here.
     
Physical Distancing. The guidance states that physical distancing is especially important for people who are not fully vaccinated or who are immunocompromised. In settings where fully vaccinated and unvaccinated patrons and workers may be present, the use of physical distancing will reduce the risk to individuals who are not fully vaccinated or may not be fully protected by the vaccine because they are immunocompromised. The guidance provides the following best practices regarding physical distancing:
  • Set up the workplace to promote workers and patrons to maintain at least 6 feet of distance from people not in their household while at the business.
  • Physical distancing is especially important during activities where face masks cannot be worn, such as when eating or drinking.
  • Consider options for limiting capacity to achieve physical distancing of 6 feet between patrons or groups of patrons.
  • If 6 feet of distance cannot be maintained, consider holding any events outdoors, improving ventilations, or minimizing movement by providing reserved seating events to minimize close contact between patrons.
  • Consider modifying operations to allow for 6 feet of physical distancing, such as by:
     
    • Identifying work and common areas where people could be in close contact and implementing interventions to facilitate physical distancing in these locations.
    • Minimizing face-to-face passing and having separate entrances and exits and marking one-way paths in the facility.
    • Closing off or limiting access to areas where physical distancing cannot be practiced.
    • Utilizing contactless payment methods, utilizing online, delivery, and drive-through services, and limiting self-service options.
    • Discouraging physical contact, scheduling appointments to avoid overcrowding, and staggering shift and break times.
Face Masks and Hand Hygiene. The guidance states that face masks are not required for people who are fully vaccinated in any setting; however, face masks are still recommended for people who are unvaccinated in indoor and outdoor public settings. In settings where fully vaccinated and unvaccinated patrons and workers may be present, the use of face masks will reduce the risk to individuals who are not fully vaccinated or may not be fully protected by the vaccine because they are immunocompromised. The guidance recommends that if face masks need to be removed in settings with both fully vaccinated and unvaccinated workers and patrons, people should be separated by more than 6 feet. The guidance recommends that facilities consider using face mask reminders, such as posters, in areas where physical distancing is difficult to maintain. The guidance also recommends businesses encourage workers to perform frequent hand hygiene, provide supplies to allow for frequent hand hygiene, and consider using signs to remind workers and patrons not to touch their faces, eyes, mouths, or noses with unwashed hands.

Cleaning and Disinfection. The guidance recommends that businesses develop a plan for increased routine cleaning of common spaces and frequently-touched surfaces within the facility. Businesses should consider training workers on cleaning procedures, cleaning frequently touched surfaces daily, cleaning and disinfecting restrooms frequently, and providing workers with appropriate personal protective equipment.
 
*           *           *


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 FFCRA. and all applicable District law relating to sick leave.  
  • 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.