As state and local governments begin to ease restrictions on businesses and increasingly look to “reopen” economic activity, employers are evaluating how to safely return employees to the workplace. This preparation must include not only understanding the parameters of state and local orders (which often include basic social distancing measures, such as staying 6 feet apart, or requiring employees to wear face coverings), but also considering obligations under standards set by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”).

Below is a guide for employers to consider as they evaluate safe return-to-work strategies during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Please consult BCLP’s additional guidance for a broader discussion of other considerations when developing a “reopening plan.”

Step 1: Review state and local orders to determine whether a business or workplace is permitted to reopen.

As an initial step, an employer must determine whether, when and to what extent it can open and maintain in-person operations. State and local orders vary in their definitions of “essential businesses” permitted to operate. For example, Georgia’s recent “reopening” orders only grant a small subset of businesses permission to reopen. BCLP is tracking the current status of state and local shelter-in-place orders nationwide, which are changing regularly.

Step 2: Review OSHA’s COVID-19 Guidance to understand and implement broadly applicable recommendations for reducing employees’ risk of exposure to COVID-19.

An employer should next carefully consider what  steps it must take to comply with the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act (the