Connecticut Issues Mandatory Safe Workplace Rules for Essential Businesses and Nonprofits Still in Operation Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

Update: On April 17, 2020, the Governor of Connecticut issued Executive Order 7BB, which, among other things, requires individuals to wear face coverings when in public and unable to maintain social distancing protocols.  Executive Order 7BB tasked the Commissioner of Economic and Community Development with issuing updates to the Safe Workplace Rules to add additional requirements for face coverings within workplace settings. The Commissioner thereafter revised the Safe Workplace Rules to require employees to wear a mask or other cloth material that covers their mouth and nose at all times while in the workplace and employers to provide such face coverings to employees.

Update: On April 21, 2020, the Commissioner of Economic and Community Development again updated the Safe Workplace Rules to relax the rules on face coverings for employees in workplace settings where employees are working alone in segregated spaces. Employees who work in segregated spaces (cubicles with walls, private offices, etc.) may remove their masks. However, workers must wear a mask or face covering from the time they enter the building until the time they arrive at their cubicle/work station and at any time they are leaving their work station and moving around common areas (in hallways and stairwells, going to the restroom or break room, etc.). Employees working in congregate settings (open manufacturing floors, warehouses, areas open to the public, shared offices, or similar settings) must wear a face covering as noted above, as well as when they are at their work stations.  In addition, continuous wearing of masks is not required in outdoor workspaces where employees do not regularly come within six feet of other employees.

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On April 7, 2020, the governor of Connecticut issued Executive Order No. 7V (“EO 7V”) which, among other things, requires every workplace in the state to take additional protective measures to reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19 between and among employees, customers, and other people authorized to enter the workplace.  Governor Lamont directed the Commissioner of Economic and Community Development (in consultation with the  Commissioner of Public Health) to issue "legally binding statewide rules" prescribing additional protective measures, which are mandatory to all essential businesses and nonprofits and any other business or nonprofit permitted to operate across the state under EOs 7H and 7J.

The rules are divided into several subsections, covering a variety of issues related to maintaining the health and safety of employees and employers state-wide.

General Rules

  • Essential employees who are able to work from home must do so.
  • It is recommended that employees who have traveled internationally in a region where COVID-19 is active, or who have recently returned from a cruise, stay home and self-monitor for 14 days subsequent to returning.
  • Businesses and nonprofits should eliminate all non-essential workplace travel, distribute summaries of health insurance processes and procedures to employees, and control access to external visitors. 
  • Facilities should prohibit non-essential visitors, interview approved visitors about their current health condition and recent travel history, and provide hand sanitizer to those entering the facility.

Controlling Contact Between Employees and Other Employees or Customers

  • Businesses are expected to develop and implement practices for social distancing, eliminate in-person meetings, discourage carpooling and increase physical space between employees and customers. 
  • To the extent businesses are able, they should implement delivery or curbside pick-up services. 
  • If a business has workers on multiple shifts, it should utilize nights and weekends to spread out its workforce to the extent possible, and keep the same workers on each shift so as to isolate each shift’s workers from the others.
  • For those with multiple workers on any given shift, businesses are expected to segment their workplaces into discrete zones, and prohibit employees from entering zones where they are not required to be to perform their jobs.
  • Where practical, manufacturers are expected to shut down the facility when production is not needed.
  • To the extent possible, businesses should close or restrict break rooms and cafeterias and/or rotate the use of the breakroom or cafeteria, as well as provide hand sanitizer and/or disposable wipes to employees using the rooms. 
  • Where possible, businesses should increase the amount of outdoor air and ventilation that circulates through their workplaces.

Eliminating Transmission Points, Including Frequent Cleaning of all Touch Points

  • Businesses are expected to reduce common touch points by opening internal doors where possible and installing no-touch disposal receptacles or removing lids that require contact to open.
  • Businesses are expected to frequently clean all common touch points (i.e., door handles, light switches, keyboards, remote controls, desks, work tools and equipment, etc.). 
  • Businesses should prohibit workers from using other workers’ phones, desks, offices, or other work tools and equipment, wherever possible, and clean and disinfect equipment before and after use. 
  • It is recommended that businesses provide employees with disposable wipes and use products that meet the EPA’s criteria for use against SARS-Cov-2.
  • If a sick employee is suspected or confirmed to have COVID-19, businesses are required to follow the CDC cleaning and disinfection recommendations.

Guidelines for Essential Employees

  • Businesses should make hand sanitizer available to employees who do not have ready access to soap and water and place posters that encourage hand hygiene to help stop the spread at the entrance to their workplace and in other workplace areas where they are likely to be seen.
  • Employees who are sick should stay home and, where possible, take their temperature before going to work.  If they have a temperature above 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit, they should stay home.
  • Whether at work or at home, all employees are advised to follow the CDC guidelines for preventing transmission of COVID-19 including:
    • Washing hands frequently for at least 20 seconds, avoiding touching mouth and nose, avoiding close contact with others, cleaning and disinfecting surfaces, using cough and sneeze etiquette, and staying at home when sick.
    • Employees should not touch their face and should use of cloth face coverings to help slow the spread of COVID-19.

Additional Rules Specific to Construction Sites

  • Businesses operating construction sites should clean portable bathrooms no less than every two days, require employees to travel separately, and reschedule work to minimize the size of the crew on the jobsite and maximize the amount of work being performed outdoors.
  • Construction crews should have rotated lunch and coffee break shifts, and should follow the CDC social distancing guidelines during meals or breaks. 
  • Businesses operating construction sites are also expected to provide employees with an adequate supply of Personal Protective Equipment, including but not limited to masks, gloves and hand sanitizer.

Guidelines for Employees who had Close Contact with a Person With Symptoms of or Have Been Diagnosed with COVID-19

To the extent possible, businesses should ensure their employees are aware of the following instructions to follow should they have close contact with someone who has texted positive for or who is exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19:

  • Do not go to work.
  • Notify your supervisor. 
  • Isolate yourself from the rest of the people in your home.
  • Consult your healthcare provider.
  • Practice home isolation as recommended by your health care provider.

Guidelines for workplace illness

  • If employees are exposed to, exhibiting symptoms of, or are diagnosed with COVID-19, they should be advised to notify their supervisor and stay home.
  • Employees should not return to work until the criteria to discontinue home isolation are met, in consultation with healthcare providers and state and local health departments.
  • Employees who are well but who have a sick family member at home with COVID-19 should be advised to notify their supervisor and follow CDC recommended precautions.
  • If an employee is confirmed to have COVID-19 infection, employers should inform fellow employees of their possible exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace but be sure to maintain confidentiality as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Key Takeaways

Businesses that are still operating, whether essential or non-essential but permitted to maintain on-site employees, are expected and required to follow the rules issued by the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development.  While there are no penalties specified in the EO for failure to adhere to the rules, it is of course essential for employers to make a concerted effort to protect their employees.  Notably, Governor Lamont, in a press conference discussing EO 7V, stated that the Connecticut Department of Labor would conduct site visits to confirm compliance with the new rules.  

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.