Information contained in this publication is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or opinion, nor is it a substitute for the professional judgment of an attorney.
Update: On May 18, 2020, Governor Lamont modified the scope of Phase 1 to exclude hair salons and barbershops. This adjustment was made in response to feedback from owners and employees in this particular industry. Connecticut now intends to align its reopening plans with the neighboring state of Rhode Island and anticipates that hair salons and barbershops will have the option to reopen at a date to be determined in early June 2020.
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On May 9, 2020, Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont and the Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD) released guidelines for businesses that will be allowed to reopen during Phase 1 of the state’s reopening plan. As of May 20, 2020, certain types of businesses will be permitted – but not required – to reopen as part of Phase 1, provided they comply with the newly issued guidelines. The guidelines provide that those who can continue to work from home should do so, and those over the age of 65 or with chronic health conditions should continue to shelter in place. It is anticipated that the safeguards will be relaxed gradually over coming months through September 2020.
The guidelines provided by the state include general instructions applicable to all Phase 1 businesses as well as industry-specific guidelines that address health and safety concerns affecting the specific types of businesses that may choose to reopen in Phase 1. No business is required to reopen; rather, the guidelines set a minimum baseline of precautions that must be taken if a business chooses to reopen on or after May 20, 2020.
All Phase-One Businesses
Businesses eligible to reopen beginning May 20, 2020 include hair salons and barbershops, museums and zoos (outdoor only), offices, restaurants (outdoor only), retail stores and malls. The state has emphasized that the health and safety of employees and visitors remain the most important considerations, so businesses that choose to reopen are expected to adhere strictly to the new guidelines. If a business cannot comply with the guidelines by May 20, 2020, it is expected to delay reopening until it is fully prepared.
General Reopening Processes
Prior to reopening, any eligible business must complete a self-certification that will be available through the DECD website. Once certified, businesses will receive a “Reopen CT” badge, which can be posted on-site and online to advertise compliance with Connecticut’s reopening rules.
In addition to obtaining certification from the state, any business seeking to reopen as part of Phase 1 is required to comply with strict health and safety guidelines and to appoint a program administrator responsible for implementing the guidelines. The appropriate person for this task will depend on the specific industry. While a comprehensive and detailed explanation of these guidelines is available through the recent state-issued publications,1 key issues addressed by the guidelines include:
- Mandatory procurement of personal protection for employees present on site, including facemasks, gloves and eye protection as appropriate. This equipment must be provided at no cost to the employee, but can be supplemented by something an employee chooses to procure independently. Unless an industry-specific exception applies, all employees are expected, at minimum, to wear face coverings while working unless unable to do so because of a medical condition.
- Creation and implementation of a cleaning plan that complies with industry-specific guidelines, including a thorough cleaning of facilities prior to reopening and compliance with strict ongoing sanitation measures once reopened. The required sanitation measures will depend on the specific business, so employers are encouraged to consult the industry-specific guidelines for more detail.
- Institution of training programs to ensure all workers (including subcontractors) are aware of the details of the state’s reopening guidelines and cleaning requirements. This training must be provided at no cost to workers, held during work hours, and include weekly refreshers on policies.
- Adjustment of the physical space in the business to encourage social distancing, avoid unnecessary physical contact or the use of shared items, increase ventilation where possible and educate visitors regarding the rules under which the business is operating as part of Phase 1. In addition, businesses should be aware that customers remain subject to the state-issued mandate to wear a face covering in public unless unable to do so due to a medical condition.
- Ongoing engagement with employees to monitor potential exposure to COVID-19. Specifically, employers that reopen are required to inquire on a daily basis as to whether any employee on the premise has experienced COVID-19-related symptoms. Employers are also required to provide employees with access to information concerning their rights under the newly established Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), which requires certain employers to provide their employees with paid sick leave and expanded family and medical leave for specified reasons related to COVID-19.2 Employers should take note that the state guidelines expressly confirm that employees who raise safety or health concerns regarding COVID-19 are protected from retaliation by their employer.
In addition to the general guidelines referenced above, industry-specific guidance includes the non-exhaustive points described below.
Hair Salons & Barbershops
The directives applicable to hair salons and barbershops recognize that these businesses are high-contact environments that require interaction between employees and members of the public as a necessary part of the service provided. Any hair salon or barbershop that chooses to reopen must follow these directives::
- Businesses are expected to complete a thorough cleaning of the specific tools used during business operations, including bathrooms, shampoo bowls, chairs and headrests, shears, combs, brushes, tweezers, razors, styling tools, and rolling carts. Sanitation efforts should be ongoing after the business resumes operations.
- Businesses are expected to rearrange workstation set-ups to maintain social distancing between customers and limit movement of employees in shared space. As an example, customers should be encouraged to wait in their cars until their appointment time and certain services may be limited or not permitted. Businesses are also expected to limit non-essential amenities like waiting room materials, access to coat rooms and use of customer-facing water and coffee machines.
- Mandatory use of face coverings by both customers and employees. While the use of gloves is optional, if used, they must be changed after use for each customer.
Museums & Zoos (Outdoor Only)
The directives applicable to museums and zoos recognize that the use of outdoor space at these businesses presents an inherently lower risk to members of the public during the pandemic. Since health risks remain a legitimate concern, however, museums and zoos are expected to adhere to guidelines that include:
- Operations can allow access only to outdoor space. All interactive and indoor exhibits must remain closed, and guided tours are not permitted. Gift shops must remain closed. Any outdoor food counters/snack bars must operate in accordance with the rules applicable to restaurants allowed to reopen as part of Phase 1.
- Museums and Zoos are expected to complete a thorough cleaning of facilities prior to reopening, with an emphasis on highly frequented spaces such as common areas, ticket counters, restrooms, and other high-traffic zones. Sanitation efforts should be ongoing after the business resumes operations.
- Museums and zoos are expected to calculate maximum safe occupancy for each exhibit area that will allow adequate social distancing and prevent social gatherings in excess of five individuals per group. Once businesses calculate the safe occupancy limit, they are expected to enforce it by providing adequate signage, floor markings and enhanced presence of attendants to monitor use of the space.
- Museums and zoos must take steps to provide for adequate social distancing between employees, including installation of physical barriers at ticket counters and allowing employees to remain at the same work station throughout the day to minimize movement. Employees should avoid sharing equipment, but if shared, equipment should be thoroughly cleaned after each use.
Businesses that operate in an office space may reopen in a limited capacity as of May 20, 2020; however, employers are encouraged to allow employees to continue to work from home wherever possible. If a business decides to resume limited office operations, it is expected to comply with guidelines tailored to the health and safety concerns affecting an office environment. Examples of these requirements include:
- Offices must complete a thorough cleaning of the office space, especially high-traffic and communal areas such as entrances, lobbies, bathrooms, kitchens, hallways, and elevators, as well as frequently used items like door handles, door knobs, shared equipment (e.g., printers, scanners, phones, vending machines), desks, chairs, computers, and monitors. If the office occupies leased space, the business is expected to coordinate with the landlord to ensure adequate sanitation of common space outside tenant control. Ongoing sanitation efforts are expected after reopening.
- Visitors and service providers are limited on-site and deliveries must occur only in designated areas.
- Offices are expected to rearrange workspace as appropriate to allow for adequate social distancing between employees. This can be accomplished by moving desks or using partitions as appropriate. Where possible, offices should be divided into discrete work zones that do not require unnecessary movement of employees between different zones. Employers are expected to close spaces were employees tend to congregate.
- While employees are generally required to wear face coverings at all times, including at their work station or elsewhere in the office, this requirement is relaxed if an employee is working alone in a segregated space such as a cubicle with walls or a private office. In that situation, employees may remove their face coverings when not around other employees. In addition, the continuous wearing of face coverings is not required in outdoor settings if the employee does not regularly come within six feet of another individual.
Restaurants (Outdoor Only)
As part of Phase 1, restaurants with outdoor areas will be permitted to reopen in a limited capacity; however, indoor areas and bar areas must remained closed at this time. The industry-specific guidelines for restaurants include these requirements and restrictions:
- Operations will be limited to 50% of total capacity and will only be permitted in outdoor areas. The restaurant is expected to calculate and enforce the revised capacity limits.
- Prior to reopening, restaurants must thoroughly clean all spaces in their facilities, for example bathrooms, kitchens, and seating areas. Ongoing sanitation efforts are expected after reopening, including regular cleaning of areas used by customers during their visit, such as chairs and tables.
- Seating and table arrangements should be rearranged to provide at least six feet of social distancing between the closest chair at one occupied table and the closest chair at the next occupied table. If the table configuration cannot be modified, it is expected that certain tables will be taken out of service to allow adequate distancing. Workstations in the kitchen area should be staggered so that employees work at least six feet apart where possible. Social distancing markers should be used to encourage customers to remain six feet apart while waiting to be seated or to use facilities such as the bathroom.
- Buffet-style self-serve stations cannot be used due to the inherent increased health risks. Non-essential amenities such as dance floors, pool tables and playgrounds should be closed and/or removed when possible. The guidelines recommend that single-use items, including silverware, condiments and menus, be used when possible.
- In addition to the general requirement to wear a mask applicable to all employees, servers must also use gloves that are replaced frequently. Furthermore, servers should be assigned to serve designated zones that minimize overlap with other employees where possible.
Retail & Malls
The directives applicable to retail establishments and malls recognize that different types of retail stores present different levels of interactions and social distancing concerns. I Industry-specific state guidelines include the following:
- Operations can resume up to 50% of total capacity; however, certain areas within a store must remain closed, including fitting rooms.
- Prior to reopening, retail establishments must thoroughly clean their facilities, including staff break rooms and commonly touched areas in front of stores, such as shopping baskets and carts. Cleaning or disinfecting products or disposable wipes should be made available near commonly used surfaces, where possible, such as cash registers, credit card machines, light switches and door handles, and ongoing efforts should be made to ensure the facility is properly sanitized on a regular basis.
- Where possible, retail establishments should be divided into discrete work zones that do not require unnecessary movement for employees. Employers are expected to close spaces where employees tend to congregate.
- All dining areas in malls must remain closed and food sold in the mall can be taken out only. Malls are expected to monitor this issue and ensure there is no consumption of take-out food within the mall. Restaurants within a mall can resume operations if they have outdoor space and can otherwise comply with the requirements applicable to restaurants.
- Malls are expected to have an enhanced security presence to break up or eject any individuals congregating in groups comprising more than five individuals.
- Activities that require unnecessary contact should not resume, including the provision of valet services or the distribution of circulars or self-serve samples. Steps should also be taken to encourage adequate social distancing, including modifying entrance and exit doorways to flow in a single direction only.
Eligible businesses considering participation in Phase 1 of Connecticut’s reopening plan should be aware that this step, while a positive development, continues to carry risks beyond the inherent health and safety concerns expressly recognized by the state. The guidelines issued by the state are detailed and impose significant limitations on operations for the foreseeable future. Employers that choose to reopen must be prepared to make significant adjustments to facilities in order to adhere to the new requirements. While not all the requirements are mandatory, businesses should document all efforts taken to comply with the guidelines including those suggesting that certain steps be taken “to the extent possible.”
Employers should anticipate complaints from employees and members of the public about the alleged inadequacy or excessiveness of steps taken to mitigate COVID-19 risks and to comply with the reopening guidelines. If these occur, businesses should promptly address any concerns raised. Inasmuch as the state has expressly extended whistleblower protection to any employee who raises COVID-19 safety concerns, employers should carefully assess the appropriate response to any such concerns and document the response provided.
1 A complete set of the Guidelines by Sector is available at https://portal.ct.gov/DECD/Content/Coronavirus-Business-Recovery/Sector-Rules-for-May-20-Reopen. If considering reopening as part of Phase 1, it is strongly recommended that employers review the guidelines applicable to the employer’s specific industry.
2 See Alexis Knapp, Jeff Nowak, Sebastian Chilco, Jim Paretti, and Michael Lotito, DOL Releases Regulations Implementing the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, Littler Insight (Apr. 2, 2020).