Devine Millimet | NH Law Firm

Lean on Me โ€“ From Six Feet Away Please

Margaret "Peg" O'Brien, Esq.

April 6, 2020

One of the greats passed this week – Bill Withers.  His wonderful empathetic song “Lean on Me” is a reminder of the important obligations we all owe right now to one another – friend and stranger.  This article reviews the safety issues that must be implemented in “essential” workplaces (see also earlier e-alerts on this topic:  Keep Calm and Wash Hands; Considerations for Employers in Wake of Government Shut-Downs Due to COVID-19)


  1. Safety Supervisor: Designate at least one employee to be a “Safety General.”  This person should study the OSHA website on COVID-19, and attend the newly scheduled OSHA weekly training sessions (register here).  Employers have an obligation under OSHA’s General Duty Clause to maintain a safe workplace; in other words, it is the law and compliance is required.  OSHA has easy to follow guidance on COVID-19.
  2. Monitor CDC Guidance: This same person, or maybe another person within the company, must monitor the CDC for updates.  Just this past Friday, the CDC updated its recommendation to include wearing face masks.  If your company did not learn of that change in guidance on Friday, register for the CDC emails if you have not done so already to be sure that you are staying current on all CDC recommendations.
  3. Establish A Safety Plan: Per OSHA recommendations, implement basic steps to reduce the risk of worker exposure to COVID-19.
  4. Educate Employees on Expectations: Educate employees on safety protocols, with the basics that sick employees must stay home and they must “self-report” to a designated person in the workplace should they contract the virus, experience direct contact with an individual diagnosed with the virus (e.g., housemate) or develop symptoms. This step is essential as the current models indicate that New England is heading towards its peak which will include a period of increased COVID-19 cases.
  5. Enforce Social Distancing: Vigilant social distancing measures must be implemented. If employees cannot work on a remote basis, then instruct all employees to stay at least 6 feet from others and monitor that this protocol is followed; consider using barriers or shields between people when possible and consider using painter’s tape to designate the 6 foot distance around a work station. 
  6. Strictly Follow Cleaning Protocols: In addition to the daily routine company cleaning policies, scan your entire workplace and advise employees on what additional smaller steps they can implement to reduce the spread of the virus – including cleaning their personal work stations, computers, handles or pens. The small stuff matters.  Also, consider making contact now with an outside cleaning company that can be called to perform a “deep clean” in the event of an outbreak in the workplace.
  7. Create Signage to Support Your Rules on Safety: Whether it is social distancing, hand washing, respiratory etiquette (especially as we enter seasonal allergy season) or otherwise.  Daily reminders are helpful as preexisting habits may require diligent redirection.
  8. Exposure Protocols: Have a plan in place for how to handle a report that an employee in the workplace has been diagnosed with the virus or is potentially ill with the virus.  As noted above, employees should self-report to a designated point-person when they have been potentially exposed, show symptoms or are diagnosed with the virus.  Next, this point-person should discuss what, if any, symptoms the employee is exhibiting and when they likely first began.  The EEOC has confirmed that these questions are permissible during this pandemic when the goal is to avoid the “direct threat” of COVID-19 in the workplace.  Also, this point-person should conduct an investigation  to identify what, if any, contact the employee had with others in the workplace while “contagious” and what contact the employee may have had with door handles and surfaces that may spread the virus.  At this point, companies should have tight protocols on social distancing and cleaning, which will minimize the risk of the virus spreading.  If there has been any exposure to other employees, be sure to share as much information as possible (without disclosing the name of the employee at issue) regarding the nature of the risk so that employees may make smart decisions for themselves and become even more sensitive to signs of the illness.  This should be an interactive and supportive dialogue that does not breach employee confidentiality.  Employers should send home all employees who worked closely with the employee at issue (closer than six feet and for more than a few minutes) to ensure the virus does not spread.  The CDC recommends that employees who worked closely with a potentially contagious employee should self-monitor for symptoms.   Also, the company should consider a deep clean protocol for the workplace if an exposure incident has occurred.
  9. Welcome Employee Feedback on Safety Concerns: This is a time to encourage employees to report safety concerns.  Advise employees how to escalate safety problems, with recommended solutions, in a constructive manner.   Stop a cold before it becomes pneumonia - figuratively and literally.
  10. Take Time to Appreciate Employees: This is a stressful time, and stress is bad for everyone’s immune system.  Be sure to express appreciation for your essential employees and share resources for counseling and relaxation, such as meditation, exercise and, of course, listening to great music and watching funny videos (British Sports announcer out of work due to virus).

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