Reopening Massachusetts Businesses: What to Know About Phase 1
On May 18, Governor Baker outlined the plan for reopening Massachusetts in a phased approach. Phase 1 permits for the limited reopening of certain businesses in the Commonwealth and will last for a minimum of three weeks. Businesses will be required to self-certify that they have complied with various safety standards and notice requirements. Detailed information concerning the phased reopening can be found here.
Below are key business sector components outlined in Phase 1. Additional information including guidance for outdoor spaces and health and human services in Phase 1 can be found on the state website.
Phase 1 Timeline
The Commonwealth will permit businesses in certain sectors to open with capacity limitations and staggered starts, as follows:
- Worship (outdoor services encouraged)
- Lab spaces not previously designated as essential
- Office space
- Remote work encouraged
- Workplaces should restrict presence to < 25% of full occupancy
- City of Boston office spaces will remain closed until June 1
- Limited personal services
- Hair salons (by appointment only)
- Pet grooming (by appointment only)
- Car Wash (exterior only)
- Retail (remote fulfillment and curb side pick up only)
In order for any business to open in Phase 1, the business must:
- Comply with all Mandatory Workplace Safety Standards (see below).
- Have a COVID-19 control plan, which sets out how the business will implement the mandatory safety standards. See template here.
- Complete a Compliance Attestation poster. Find an example here.
- Display employer and worker posters concerning the safety standards (here and here).
Essential businesses that have already been operating, or that intend to open as part of Phase 1, must comply with the four requirements noted above by May 25, 2020.
In Massachusetts, the following mandatory standards apply to all workplaces that open in Phase 1. These are designed to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission to employees and customers during the first phase of reopening. These standards are applicable to all sectors and industries.
Mandatory Safety Standards for Workplaces Opening in Phase 1
- All persons, including employees, customers, and vendors, should remain at least six feet apart to the greatest extent possible, both inside and outside workplaces
- Establish protocols to ensure that employees can practice adequate social distancing
- Provide signage for safe social distancing
- Require face coverings or masks for all employees
- Provide hand washing capabilities throughout the workplace
- Ensure frequent hand washing by employees and adequate supplies to do so
- Provide regular sanitization of high touch areas, such as workstations, equipment, screens, doorknobs, and restrooms throughout work site
Staffing and Operations
- Provide training for employees regarding the social distancing and hygiene protocols
- Employees who are displaying COVID-19-like symptoms do not report to work
- Establish a plan for employees getting ill from COVID-19 at work, and a return-to-work plan
Cleaning and Disinfecting
- Establish and maintain cleaning protocols specific to the business
- When an active employee is diagnosed with COVID-19, cleaning and disinfecting must be performed
- Disinfection of all common surfaces must take place at intervals appropriate to said workplace
In addition to the universal, mandatory workplace safety standards for all industries and all businesses, the state has also issued sector-specific standards:
The new Massachusetts COVID-19 safety standards will be jointly enforced by local boards of health, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health and the Department of Labor Standards.
Work from Home when Possible or Necessary
While the Commonwealth has issued the above guidelines and standards, Governor Baker has stressed that, where possible, businesses should permit employees to continue to work remotely. Additionally, businesses that are permitted to open in Phase 1 must evaluate making accommodations for employees who are 65+ and those with underlying health issues (for example, to allow them to work from home).
Dates and Timing
Businesses who operate within the City of Boston are advised to stay updated on the return to work guidelines for Boston-based businesses. Of note, Boston offices will not be permitted to open until at least June 1 (and, when they do open, they must also comply with the Mandatory Workplace Safety Standards and capacity restrictions noted above and in the sector-specific standards).
The Governor noted that each phase will last for a minimum of three weeks and, if necessary, will be extended if the requisite health metrics see increases after the reopening.
In addition to the information, standards, and guidelines provided by the Commonwealth, businesses should also consult the OSHA Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID19 and the CDC Interim Guidelines for Businesses and Employers for Responding to COVID19 for additional guidelines. The OSHA guidance in particular provides key information for employers to consider as they prepare for reopening and implement measures to ensure a safe environment for employees.
Burns & Levinson will provide further updates on Phases 2, 3 and 4 as new information is made available.
About the Author: Mary Katherine Geraghty
Mary Kate is an experienced trial lawyer and trusted business advisor who concentrates her practice on representing employers and employees in a variety of employment matters, including discrimination, retaliation, wrongful termination, whistleblower, severance/separation, employee classification, wage and hour, health and safety, and employee leave matters. Her practice spans a variety of industries, including higher education, nonprofit organizations, life sciences, chemical manufacturing, technology and financial services. In addition to her employment litigation practice, Mary Kate counsels companies and executives on all aspects of the employment relationship and on employment issues related to mergers, sales and acquisitions. She can be reached at email@example.com or 617.345.3272.