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Business Legal Tips

REOPENING A SMALL BUSINESS IN MASSACHUSETTS

Mark Bross May 29, 2020 No comments
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Hope everybody is healthy and safe.  Many Massachusetts small businesses that were shut down due to COVID-19 have contacted me about reopening their business.  They are uncertain about when to reopen and what steps to take.   Here is the most recent guidance about what businesses are permitted to reopen and the mandated safety standards and guidelines that must be followed for reopening your small business in Massachusetts. 

FOUR PHASE APPROACH

On May 18, 2020, the Baker-Polito Administration released it plan to reopen Massachusetts and the Massachusetts economy.   Detailed information about the plan is at Reopening Massachusetts.  A center-piece of the plan is a four phase approach to reopening Massachusetts businesses and services:

  • Phase 1:  Start.  – Limited industries allowed to resume operations with severe industries.
  • Phase 2Cautious.  Additional industries allowed to resume operations with restrictions and capacity limitations.
  • Phase 3Vigilant.  Additional industries resume operations with guidance.
  • Phase 4New Normal  Development of vaccines and/or treatments enable a resumption of a “new” normal.

Each phase will last a minimum of three (3) weeks but could last longer before moving to the next phase.  And if public health data trends are negative, specific industries, part of Massachusetts or the entire state may need to return to an earlier phase.   Let’s hope that doesn’t occur!

TIMELINE OF PHASE 1:  START

Phase 1 started on May 18, 2020.   During Phase 1, certain businesses are eligible to reopen on the following schedule so long as they comply with Mandatory Safety Standards for Workplaces  and any applicable sector specific protocols or best practices.

May 18, 2020 Essential business/services stay open and continue to operate.  Must comply with Mandatory Safety Standards by May 25, 2020.

Manufacturing

Construction

Hospital and Community Health Centers expand services to provide high priority preventative services, pediatric care, and treatment for high risk patients.  Must provide attestation to specific health/safety standards  
May 25, 2020
Laboratory and Life science facilities

Offices (Except those in Boston).  Workforce presence must be less than 25% maximum occupancy.  Working from Home strongly encouraged.

Hair salons and barbershops by appointment only

Pet grooming by appointment only.  Curbside pet drop-off/pickup.

Car washes — Exteriors only

Retail — Remote fulfillment and curbside pickup

Other health providers can prove high-priority preventative services, pediatric care and immunizations, and treatment for high-risk patients. Must attest to specific health/safety standards.
June 1, 2020
Offices in the City of Boston can reopen.  Must follow same guidelines specified above. 

MANDATORY SAFETY STANDARDS FOR WORKPLACES

Every workplace that is open in Phase I must meet the following Mandatory Safety Standards for Workplaces. (“Mandatory Standards”):

Social Distancing

  • All persons, including employees, customers, and vendors must keep at least six feet apart to the greatest extent possible;
  •  Both inside and outside workplace
  • Employers must establish protocols so employees can practice adequate social distancing
  • Employers must provide signage for safe social distancing. 
  • Require face coverings or masks for all employees

Hygiene Protocols

  • Provide hand washing capabilities throughout the workplace
  • Ensure frequent hand washing by employees and adequate supplies to do so
  • Provide regular sanitization of high touch areas, such as workstations, equipment, screens, doorknobs, restrooms throughout work site

Staffing and Operations

  • Provide training for employees regarding the Social Distancing and Hygiene Protocols
  • Employees who are displaying COVID-19-like symptoms do not report to work
  • Establish a plan for employees getting ill from COVID-19 at work, and a return-to-work plan

Cleaning and Disinfecting

  • Establish and maintain cleaning protocols specific to the business
  • When an active employee is diagnosed with COVID-19, cleaning and disinfecting must be performed
  • Disinfection of all common surfaces must take place at intervals appropriate to said workplace

Sector Specific Guidelines

In addition to the Mandatory Standards businesses that are reopening must follow more detailed specific Sector Safety Protocols and Recommended best practices (“Sector Specific Guidelines“).  When reopening in Phase 1, make sure to comply with the appropriate Sector Specific Guidelines for your business which are available online at the addresses listed below:

These Sector Specific Guidelines provide detailed guidance, checklists, and summaries to help your business get restarted while reducing the risk of COVID-19 transmissions to employees and customers.  Feel free to contact me if you have questions bout what is required to comply with the Sector Specific Guidelines or the Mandatory Guidelines.

COVID-19 CONTROL PLAN AND SELF-CERTIFICATION

Before reopening, your business must develop a written COVID-19 Control Plan (the “Control Plan”) that outlines how your workplace will prevent the spread of COVID-19.  There is little guidance about what must be included in a Control Plan.  But completing the online template at https://www.mass.gov/doc/covid-19-reopening-control-plan-template/download should meet the requirement so I recommend using that template.   Based on the template, the Control Plan should include the following information:

  • Business Information: Business Name, Address, Contact Information, and number of workers on Site.
  • Statements and certifications that the Mandatory Standards for Social Distancing, Hygiene Protocols, Staffing and Operations, and Cleaning & Disinfecting have been met.  Include a description for any additional procedures that your business has implemented to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among employees, customers, and vendors. 

The Control Plan does not need to be submitted to any government entity but must be kept on the business premises in case of an inspection or outbreak. 

Businesses must also print, sign and post a Compliance Attestation Poster in a location visible to employees and customers.  See https://www.mass.gov/info-details/reopening-massachusetts#general-business-guidance-. The Compliance Attestation Poster informs customers and employees that:

  • Workers are wearing face coverings and your business has put social distancing measures in place;
  • Your Business provides hand washing capabilities and are regularly sanitizing high touch areas
  • Your staff has received training regarding social distancing and hygiene protocols
  • You business has established thorough cleaning and disinfecting protocols. 

Finally, your business should also print and display employer and workers posters on the business premises that describe the rules for maintaining social distancing, hygiene protocols and cleaning and disinfecting.  These posters do not have to be signed but should posted in a location that is readily accessible for all your employees, managers and owners.

Other Businesses and the next phases

Many businesses are still not permitted to open. If yours is one of them, try to be patient. Phase 1 is supposed to last a minimum of 3 weeks, so we should hopefully be moving into Phase 2 around the second week of June 2020.  The Mandatory Guidelines will likely remain in effect during Phase 2 and, if your business is permitted to reopen, your business will be expected to comply.  So start preparing and trying to plan how your workplace will comply.  If you’re not certain what phase your business belongs in, check out Reopening:  When can my business Reopen? for the latest guidance about the appropriate phase.

Stay safe and healthy.  Do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions about reopening your business, hiring back your employees, or need other help complying with the relevant Massachusetts and federal laws. 

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