Wednesday, 10 June 2020 14:49

Getting Back to Work for Manufacturing Facilities

Written by Ashby Angell

On April 21, 2020, Governor Andy Beshear announced that Kentucky’s businesses could begin returning to work under specific guidelines during the coronavirus pandemic.  The “Healthy at Work” plan consists of both general guidelines for all businesses and industry-specific guidance tailored to different sectors, like salons and restaurants.  Each business must be able to meet the general and industry-specific requirements before reopening and remaining in business during the State of Emergency, which has been in place since March 6, 2020.

As of May 11, 2020, all businesses had to meet the following general requirements in order to reopen:

  1. Continue telework if employees are able to do their jobs remotely;
  2. Develop a phased return-to-work plan;
  3. Enforce social distancing;
  4. Limit face-to-face interaction;
  5. Universal masks and any other necessary personal protective equipment (PPE);
  6. Adequate hand sanitizer and encourage hand washing;
  7. Restrict common areas, like waiting rooms and break rooms;
  8. Proper sanitation;
  9. Conduct daily temperature/health checks;
  10. Create a testing plan;
  11. Make special accommodations;
  12. Designate a “Healthy at Work” officer;
  13. Educate and train employees; and
  14. Implement contact tracing.

Additional guidelines for manufacturing and distribution facilities supplement the guidelines outlined above.  The industry-specific guidelines instruct manufacturing facilities to install physical barriers where employees cannot maintain six (6) feet of physical distance.  Where physical distancing is not possible, employees must wear cloth face coverings or masks, which must be provided by the employer.  Employers must also train employees on the use of such masks, like when and where they are necessary.  Importantly, employees should be instructed on how to properly wear masks, including that they should cover the mouth and nose at all times while worn.

In addition to installing barriers and providing masks, manufacturing employers must limit or eliminate gatherings where social distance cannot be maintained, like daily all-hands meetings.  Alternatives to daily meetings could be e-mails, paper handouts, or materials posted in common areas.  Employees, however, must not be permitted to congregate in common areas like locker rooms and lunch rooms.  If possible, require “one-way” traffic in these areas, delineating traffic flow on the ground with the use of colored tape.  The Healthy at Work guidelines also suggest staggering employees’ start times, if possible, to reduce the number of employees on-site, which would help reduce gathering in common areas, as well.

Facilities have now had some time to adapt to these guidelines, but we do not, at this point, know how long they will be in place.  What we do know, however, is that it is safe to assume it will not be anytime soon.  It is time, therefore, to embrace our “new normal,” which is sure to come with questions from employees.  Employers should ensure they regularly communicate with their employees regarding the company’s plans and expectations for handling coronavirus.  The guidelines for all businesses require that employers designate a “Healthy at Work officer,” who should take the lead communicating changes to employees and should act as the point person for employees’ questions and concerns, as they are likely to have many.  Actively communicating to employees the steps the company is taking, for instance, to clean and disinfect machinery, will go a long way toward comforting concerned employees.

Ashby Angell, is an associate in Fisher Phillips’ Louisville office. Her practice is focused exclusively on labor and employment law across various industries including manufacturing, healthcare, and media.  Ashby graduated from the Louis D. Brandeis School of Law at the University of Louisville. While in law school, she served as a member of the Journal of Law and Education.

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