Key COVID Executive Orders for HR to Know
By Kevin M. Mosher • Nov 26, 2020
Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t gone away just yet. As states hit record high infection rates, many governors around the country have issued executive orders to curb the spread of the coronavirus. Today we’ll be breaking down how these new orders may affect employers and employees.
On November 18, 2020, Minnesota Governor Tim Walz issued Executive Order 20-99, titled “Implementing a Four Week Dial Back on Certain Activities to Slow the Spread of COVID-19.” This order mostly keeps in place previous restrictions on employers, such as requiring employees to work from home when possible; adhering to Minnesota OSHA Standards, as well as MDH and CDC Guidelines; and the continued implementation of COVID-19 Preparedness Plans. However, the order significantly impacts businesses that operate places of public accommodation, like bars, restaurants, cafes, gyms, theaters, and other event venues. These businesses are ordered to close to the public, though take-out and delivery services, virtual/remote programming, and “drive-in” / “drive-through” events are permitted. It also states that individuals who travel outside of Minnesota are “encouraged” to quarantine for 14 days upon return to the state. The biggest change is that social gatherings among different households are now prohibited. Business owners, managers, and supervisors who require or encourage employees, contractors, vendors, volunteers, or interns to violate the order are guilty of a gross misdemeanor and may be subject to civil penalties.
The State of Illinois’s current restrictions are similar to Minnesota’s. Businesses are required to facilitate remote work when possible, ensure employees practice social distancing and wear face coverings when social distancing isn’t possible, ensure that visitors (customers, vendors, etc.) to the workplace practice social distancing and encourage them to wear face coverings, cap occupancy at 25% for customer-facing activity, and prominently post guidance from the Illinois Department of Public Health and Office of the Illinois Attorney general regarding workplace safety during the COVID-19 emergency. Though there are differing specific requirements for retail stores, manufacturers, office buildings, restaurants, gyms, and other types of businesses, capacity restrictions, providing face masks, and compliance with the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity is consistent across the board.
Massachusetts likewise has sector-specific regulations in place. Regardless of the sector, businesses in the commonwealth must implement social distancing policies, face covering requirements, hygiene / cleaning and disinfecting protocols, training on COVID-19 procedures and identifying symptoms of COVID-19, and they must display posters regarding these policies and procedures within the business premises. Businesses are also required to create a COVID-19 control plan and print, sign, and post a compliance attestation poster in an area that is visible to workers and visitors. Most recently, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker issued an executive order requiring certain businesses such as restaurants, liquor stores, theaters, casinos, gyms, salons, and others to close to the public between 9:30 PM and 5:00 AM. Governor Baker also ordered all persons to wear face coverings in all public places, regardless if social distancing can be maintained.
It probably comes as no surprise that Texas employers have a bit more discretion when it comes to operating during the pandemic. On October 7, 2020 Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued an order requiring businesses to operate at no more than 75% of the total listed occupancy of the establishment. However, there are several exceptions: religious services, government operations, child care services, schools, and salons that can operate with at least six feet between work stations are not subject to the capacity restriction. Bars can operate at up to 50% occupancy if the bar is not in an area with high hospitalizations, and if it is in an area with high hospitalizations, it can operate with the appropriate governmental approval. The Texas Department of State Health Services has issued a checklist for employers and event organizers, which includes standard training on COVID-related cleaning/sanitization protocols, screening employees for symptoms, requiring employees to social distance, conducting temperature checks on all employees at the beginning of their shifts, encouraging employees to work remotely if possible, staggering schedules to minimize close contact, among other things. Like the other states, some sectors have more specific guidance.
On November 19, 2020, California’s Acting State Public Health Officer Erica Pan issued a limited stay at home order for the State of California. Under this order, California residents in “Tier One” counties are prohibited from gathering with members of other households or engaging in any activities conducted outside the home with members of other households between 10:00 PM an 5:00 AM. On November 16, 2020, California Governor Gavin Newsom announced that nearly 95% of California’s population is subject to the most restrictive limitations on social and economic activity under the “Blueprint for a Safer Economy.” Now, nearly all California counties are subject to the Tier 1 restrictions, meaning offices must require employees to work remotely, indoor retail establishments must not operate beyond 25% capacity, and gyms, restaurants, theaters, and zoos and other places of public accommodation may only operate outdoors. Some businesses, like salons and hotels, can remain open for indoor business with certain modifications. California also strengthened its mask mandate, requiring all individuals over the age of two to wear face coverings while in public (subject to some limited exceptions).
In addition to state regulations, cities and towns may have their own ordinances and regulations. If you operate in several locations, make sure you’re complying with both the state and local regulations regarding COVID-19.
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