Employment Issues Associated With ‘Returning to the New Normal’

Published: April 23, 2020

(Updated July 22, 2020)

Gov. Tim Walz and state agencies, including the Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED), Minnesota Department of Health (MDH), and Department of Labor and Industry (DLI) are working together to safely allow businesses to open.

Gov. Walz signed Executive Order 20-81 on July 22, 2020 requiring Minnesotans to wear a face covering in certain settings to prevent the spread of COVID-19 beginning on Saturday, July 25, 2020. The face covering (which can include a paper or disposable face mask, a cloth face mask, a scarf, a bandanna, a neck gaiter, or a religious face covering) is to cover the nose and mouth completely in indoor businesses and indoor public settings, including when waiting outdoors to enter an indoor business or public indoor space. Workers must also wear face coverings outdoors when it is not possible to maintain social distancing.

As E.O. 20-81 notes, mandatory face coverings may be temporarily removed in some of these situations (please refer to the linked E.O. for a comprehensive list):

  • When participating in organized sports in an indoor business or indoor public space while the level of exertion makes it difficult to wear a face covering.
  • When exercising in an indoor business or public indoor space such as a gym or fitness center, while the level of exertion makes it difficult to wear a face covering, provided that social distancing is always maintained.
  • When testifying, speaking, or performing in an indoor business or public indoor space, in situations or settings such as theaters, news conferences, legal proceedings, governmental meetings subject to the Open Meeting Law, presentations, or lectures, provided that social distancing is always maintained. Face shields should be considered as an alternative in these situations.
  • During activities, such as swimming or showering, where the face covering will get wet.
  • When eating or drinking in an indoor business or indoor public space, provided that at least six feet of physical distance is maintained between persons who are not members of the same party.
  • When asked to remove a face covering to verify an identity for lawful purposes.
  • While communicating with an individual who is deaf or hearing impaired or has a disability, medical condition, or mental health condition that makes communication with that individual while wearing a face covering difficult, provided that social distancing is maintained to the extent possible between persons who are not members of the same household.
  • When an individual is alone, including when alone in an office, a room, a cubicle with walls that are higher than face level when social distancing is maintained, a vehicle, or the cab of heavy equipment or machinery, or an enclosed work area. In such situations, the individual should still carry a face covering to be prepared for person-to-person interactions and to be used when no longer alone.
  • When a public safety worker is actively engaged in a public safety role, including but not limited to law enforcement, firefighters, or emergency medical personnel, in situations where wearing a face covering would seriously interfere in the performance of their public safety responsibilities.

E.O. 20-81, requires all businesses to update their COVID-19 Preparedness Plans to include the face covering requirements, including those that have been incorporated into the Industry Guidance applicable to their business available on the Stay Safe Minnesota website, informing their workers how their plan has been updated, and make the revised plan available to their workers. Businesses may develop policies that impose more protective requirements with respect to face coverings than what E.O. 20-81 requires.

Businesses (including cities) must post one or more signs visible to all persons — including workers, customers, and visitors — instructing them to wear face coverings as required by Executive Order 20-81. When possible, businesses must provide accommodations to persons, including their workers and customers, who state they have a medical condition, mental health condition, or disability that makes it unreasonable for the person to maintain a face covering, such as permitting use of an alternate form of face covering (e.g., face shield) or providing service options that do not require a customer to enter the business. Executive Order No. 20-81 does not require businesses or their workers to enforce the face mask requirement when it is unsafe to do so, or authorizes them to restrain, assault or physically remove workers or customers who refuse to comply. Violations for willful violations are outlined in E.O. 20-81, ranging from a petty misdemeanor for individuals to a misdemeanor for a business owner, manager or supervisor for failure to comply.

On May 13, 2020, Gov. Walz issued four Executive Orders to correspond to the Stay-at-Home Order expiration at midnight on May 17, 2020, thereby moving Minnesota to a “Stay Safe” initiative in reopening the state’s economy. Two of the executive orders (20-54 and 20-55) that most closely correspond to city employment situations are outlined below.

On June 5, 2020, Governor Walz issued Executive Order 20-74, loosening restrictions as part of the process to safely reopen Minnesota’s economy. Within that executive order, workers and businesses are required to:

Required COVID-19 Preparedness Plan

Cities, as critical businesses, must develop and implement a COVID-19 Preparedness Plan by June 29. For most cities, the COVID-19 Preparedness Plan should be adopted by the city council. Exceptions might include cities that have delegated this type of authority to a city manager or emergency manager through a resolution or ordinance. Cities that meet only once per month may need to plan a special meeting to adopt the COVID-19 Preparedness Plan between June 16-29, 2020. A plan adopted prior to June 15, 2020, should be reviewed to ensure compliance with state guidance.

E.O. 20-81 requires all businesses to update their COVID-19 Preparedness Plans to include the face covering requirements, including those that have been incorporated into the Industry Guidance applicable to their business available on the Stay Safe Minnesota website. Further, business must inform their workers how the business plan has been updated to reflect the face covering requirements and make revised plan available to their workers. Businesses may develop policies that impose more protective requirements with respect to face coverings than what E.O. 20-81 requires.

While cities are not required to submit their plans to DEED for pre-approval, there are enforcement measures for noncompliance.  Penalty provisions for noncompliance are outlined on page 17 of Executive Order 20-74.

Executive Order 20-54

As the title of Executive Order 20-54 reflects (“Protecting Workers from Unsafe Working Conditions and Retaliation During the COVID-19 Peacetime Emergency”), this action protects workers from retaliation by declaring the following worker protections:

  • Employers must not discriminate or retaliate in any way against a worker communicating orally or in writing with management personnel about occupational safety or health matters related to COVID-19, including asking questions or expressing concerns.
  • Employers must not discriminate or retaliate in any way against any worker for wearing gloves, a cloth face covering, eye protection, or other protective gear which the worker has personally procured and reasonably believes will protect them, their coworkers or the public against COVID-19 in the course of their work, provided that the protective gear which the worker has personally procured does not violate industry standards or existing employer policies related to health, safety, or decency.
  • Employers may require use of employer-provided protective gear that meets or exceeds protective gear procured by employees.
  • Workers have the right to refuse to work under conditions that they, in good faith, reasonably believe present an imminent danger of death or serious physical harm. This includes a reasonable belief that they have been assigned to work in an unsafe or unhealthful manner with an infectious agent such as COVID-19. Employers must not discriminate or retaliate in any way against a worker for the worker’s good faith refusal to perform assigned tasks if the worker has asked the employer to correct the hazardous conditions but remains uncorrected.
  • Workers and authorized representatives of workers have the right to request that DLI conduct an inspection of their workplace if they believe that a violation of a safety or health standard that threatens physical harm exists or that an imminent danger exists. Employers must not discriminate or retaliate in any way against a worker because such worker has requested an inspection or exercised any other right under Minnesota Statutes Chapter 182.
  • Provides unemployment insurance benefit eligibility for workers quitting employment because the employer has failed to correct an adverse work condition related to the pandemic which would compel an average, reasonable worker to quit, provided the worker has complained to the employer about such adverse work condition and has given the employer a reasonable opportunity to correct such adverse work condition, to no avail, or has been retaliatorily terminated from their employment as a result of exercising the worker rights described in the Executive Order.
  • Directs the commissioner of Human Rights to issue guidance, as necessary, consistent with federal and state anti-discrimination laws, including the Minnesota Human Rights Act, regarding employers’ obligations to provide reasonable accommodations related to COVID-19 for qualified employees with disabilities, which may include employees with health conditions who are at high-risk, as determined by relevant guidelines from the CDC or MDH, if they are exposed to or if they contract COVID-19.

Reasonable accommodations related to COVID-19 for such employees may include, but are not limited to, adjusting schedules or workstations, allowing employees to work from home, or permitting use of leave. Executive Order 20-55 protects the rights and health of at-risk populations during the COVID-19 Peacetime Emergency. The order strongly recommends people in high-risk categories to stay at home or in their place of residence, except to engage in necessary activities for health and well-being (including, but not limited to, visiting medical professionals, picking up prescriptions and other medical equipment, grocery shopping, outdoor exercise, child care, caring for family members or pets) and work, if it is not possible to work from home. People who can work from home must do so.

At-risk persons are defined in this executive order as people who are 65 years and older, people in nursing homes or long-term care facilities, and anyone with underlying health conditions (such as chronic lung diseases, severe asthma, serious heart conditions, compromised immunity system, diabetes, severe obesity, chronic kidney disease, and liver disease).

—Read DEED Guidance on safely returning to work

Effective April 27, 2020:

  • Workers at non-critical sector industrial and office-based businesses that are non-customer facing are allowed to go back to work as long their employer:
    • Has created and shared a COVID-19 Preparedness Plan that follows MDH and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines and meets Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards.
    • Is following the health and safety protocols outlined in Executive Order 20-40, including conducting health screenings of workers.
    • Continues to encourage teleworking as much as possible. Employees who can work from home should continue doing so.
  • Businesses that were included on the critical sector list and already open prior to April 27 are also required to comply with all CDC and OSHA guidance to ensure the health and safety of their workers but are not required to create a COVID-19 Preparedness Plan.

The executive order also states that all workers who are able to work from home must continue to do so (and this is reiterated on the DEED website).

On May 20, 2020 Gov. Walz announced plans for additional businesses to open on June 1, including outdoor service for restaurants and bars and personal care services providing they have a COVID-19 Preparedness Plan in place as well as other established safety measures.

Requirements for non-critical exempt businesses

Before workers may return to work at a non-critical exempt business under this executive order, the non-critical exempt business must establish and implement a COVID-19 Preparedness Plan (Plan). Each plan must provide for the business’ implementation of Minnesota OSHA standards and MDH and CDC guidelines in their workplaces. These requirements are set forth in guidance published by DEED and DLI (Plan Guidance).

The CDC also offers a helpful document on activities and initiatives supporting the COVID-19 Response and the President’s Plan for Opening America Up Again. The last few pages of the document provide a concise summary of CDC guidance, which reiterates the MDH guidance.

Required Plan content

As set forth in the Plan Guidance, at a minimum, each Plan must adequately address the following areas:

  • Require work from home whenever possible. All Plans must ensure that all workers who can work from home continue to do so.
  • Ensure that sick workers stay home. All Plans must establish policies and procedures, including health screenings, that prevent sick workers from entering the workplace.
  • Social distancing. All Plans must establish social distancing policies and procedures.
  • Face coverings in accordance with E.O. 20-81.
  • Employee hygiene and source control. All Plans must establish hygiene and source control policies for workers.
  • Workplace building and ventilation protocols. Plans must address building and ventilation protocols applicable to the business and describe steps taken to introduce fresh air, improve air circulation, and properly use and maintain ventilation systems.
  • Cleaning and disinfection protocols. All Plans must establish cleaning and disinfection protocols for areas within the workplace.
  • Drop-off, pickup and delivery protections and protocols. All Plans must address the drop-off, pick-up and delivery protocols included in the industry guidance for your workplace.
  • Communication and training practices and protocols. Plans must address how an employer communicates the plan to workers, when training was provided and how ongoing training and ongoing communication will occur.  Roles of managers and supervisor responsibilities are outlined as well.
  • Optional template. A template COVID-19 Preparedness Plan, which covers the above requirements, is available.

The executive order also requires certification by senior management, dissemination and posting of the Plan, training for workers on the contents of the Plan, and compliance with the Plan by workers and management. Plans do not need to be submitted for approval but must be made available to regulatory authorities and public safety officers, including the Department of Labor. DLI may issue citations, civil penalties, or closure orders with unsafe or unhealthy conditions. Workers who violate the order are also subject to fines or imprisonment.

In addition to the list above, the plan must also include protections and protocols included in specific industry guidance typical to the type of situations where exposure exists for employees and/or customers.  One of those guidance areas includes customer-facing services.

Customer-facing city services

For customer-facing city services, DEED has provided a template COVID-19 Preparedness Plan and instructions.  DEED notes, while organizations are not required to use the exact template, all plans developed must address components included in the State of Minnesota Industry Guidance developed for the type of business. While this template is not specific to cities, it may be helpful to consider incorporating this guidance into your city’s COVID-19 plans to promote employee and customer safety. Plan components specific to customer service can describe how the city will address additional protections and protocols for:

  • Customers, client, guests, and visitors to help minimize transmission of COVID-19, including face coverings as outlined in E.O. 20-81.
  • Personal protective equipment (PPE).
  • Access and assignment.
  • Sanitation and hygiene.
  • Work clothes and hand-washing.
  • Receiving and exchanging payment.
  • Managing occupancy.
  • Limiting face-to-face interactions.
  • Distancing and barriers.

These areas are all included in the State of Minnesota Industry Guidance.

Get answers to frequently asked questions (FAQs) regarding returning employees to work

The information contained in these FAQs is designed to help cities decide when and how to return their workforce back to the city’s worksites. Please make sure to use CDC and MDH guidance wherever provided in order to meet the requirements of this executive order.

Q1. How should our city decide when to bring our workforce back to the worksite? (Updated June 6, 2020)

Q2. Should we consider screening employees and visitors to our building? (Updated July 22, 2020)

Q3. How will we know when our employees are ready to return to the worksite, both practically and psychologically? (Updated May 14, 2020)

Q4. What kinds of precautionary safety measures do we need to take before returning more employees to the same worksite? (Updated July 22, 2020)

Q5. How should we communicate our decision to return to the worksite with our employees? (Updated July 22, 2020)

Q6. What are we obligated to share if someone becomes ill? (Updated May 18, 2020)

Q7. Are there any other miscellaneous legal issues to think about?

Q8. What should our city be thinking about as we start to plan — beyond the short-term logistical issues?

Q9. What employment issues should our city start thinking about for the longer term?

 

Q1. How should our city decide when to bring our workforce back to the worksite?

A1. One indicator is the expiration of the governor’s stay-at-home order and transition to the stay safe order. However, that is not the only consideration. Each employer will need to make its decision based on expert guidance and the unique needs of its workforce.

Here are a few considerations:

  • Health care experts suggest that COVID-19 testing should be readily available prior to returning to the worksite so employers can identify sick people and trace whom they had contact with and where that contact occurred.
  • How comfortable will your employees be returning to a workplace? Are they able to effectively telecommute? How confident are they that you will protect them from unnecessary risk?
  • Has your city sought input from employee labor unions? Are they comfortable with the safety measures you have put in place?
  • How ready is your city to deal with the issues associated with employees working together at one site again? Do you have the right protocols and policies in place?
  • Some employers in China have returned their workforce in smaller segments and gradually, over time, eased into the transition. They have also scheduled shorter shifts for workers, with telework before and after (e.g., work onsite from 10-3 and telework before and after) to avoid rush times in public transit, etc.

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Q2. Should we consider screening employees and visitors to our building?

A2. Some employers have decided to check temperatures of all employees and visitors to their worksites. Others are implementing health screening templates and questionnaires.

While a best practice is to use medical personnel for this testing, another option is to have a qualified medical professional train staff who will be taking temperatures. For screening employee temperatures by staff, the CDC offers several methods for temperature screening protocols, including using social distance by maintaining a distance of 6 feet from others or physical barriers to minimize the screener’s exposure due to close contact with a person who has symptoms during screening. The CDC provides the following examples to consider that incorporating these types of control for temperature testing include:

  • Reliance on Social Distancing: Ask employees to take their own temperature either before coming to the workplace or upon arrival at the workplace. Upon their arrival, stand at least 6 feet away from the employee and:
    • Ask the employee to confirm that their temperature is less than 100.4oF (38.0o C) and confirm that they are not experiencing coughing or shortness of breath.
    • Make a visual inspection of the employee for signs of illness, which could include flushed cheeks or fatigue.
    • Screening staff do not need to wear personal protective equipment (PPE) if they can maintain a distance of 6 feet. Ensure compliance with Gov. Walz E.O. 20-81.
  • Reliance on Barrier/Partition Controls: During screening, the screener stands behind a physical barrier, such as a glass or plastic window or partition, that can protect the screener’s face and mucous membranes from respiratory droplets that may be produced when the employee sneezes, coughs, or talks. Upon arrival, the screener should wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or, if soap and water are not available, use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Then:
    • Make a visual inspection of the employee for signs of illness, which could include flushed cheeks or fatigue.
    • Conduct temperature and symptom screening using this protocol:
      • Put on disposable gloves.
      • Check the employee’s temperature, reaching around the partition or through the window. Make sure the screener’s face stays behind the barrier at all times during the screening.
      • If performing a temperature check on multiple individuals, make sure that you use a clean pair of gloves for each employee and that the thermometer has been thoroughly cleaned in between each check. If disposable or non-contact thermometers are used and you did not have physical contact with an individual, you do not need to change gloves before the next check. If non-contact thermometers are used, clean and disinfect them according to manufacturer’s instructions and facility policies.
    • Remove and discard PPE (gloves), and wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.

If social distance or barrier controls cannot be implemented during screening, PPE can be used when the screener is within 6 feet of an employee during screening. However, reliance on PPE alone is a less effective control and more difficult to implement given PPE shortages and training requirements.

  • Reliance on Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): Upon arrival, the screener should wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol, put on a face mask, eye protection (goggles or disposable face shield that fully covers the front and sides of the face), and a single pair of disposable gloves. A gown could be considered if extensive contact with an employee is anticipated. Then:
    • Make a visual inspection of the employee for signs of illness, which could include flushed cheeks or fatigue, and confirm that the employee is not experiencing coughing or shortness of breath.
    • Take the employee’s temperature.
      • If performing a temperature check on multiple individuals, make sure that you use a clean pair of gloves for each employee and that the thermometer has been thoroughly cleaned in between each check. If disposable or non-contact thermometers are used and you did not have physical contact with an individual, you do not need to change gloves before the next check. If non-contact thermometers are used, you should clean and disinfect them according to manufacturer’s instructions and facility policies.
    • After each screening, remove and discard PPE and wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.

While temperature checks are likely an acceptable option during a pandemic, there are issues associated with the practice of doing them across the board with all employees and visitors:

  • An employee can be infected with COVID-19 and not run a fever.
  • The least invasive thermometers (infrared sensor devices) appear to be unreliable used outside a medical environment, according to some medical experts. Other thermometers may be more reliable, but also more invasive. Employees may not appreciate having their temperature taken outside of a medical environment.
  • Visitors to city facilities may refuse to cooperate, and if the city cannot screen visitors, then screening employees may not be worth the effort.
  • Data practices laws remain in play during a pandemic. Thus, privacy issues associated with temperature checks of co-workers must be considered and worked through to ensure compliance with the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act and the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA).
  • The time associated with taking a temperature check may cause long lines outside the city facility.

A somewhat easier and more controlled practice may be to ask visitors and employees to complete a short medical questionnaire each day. The League has provided a sample for cities who wish to consider using this practice.

—View the Model Health Screening Questionnaire (doc) (updated June 5, 2020)

The city will also want to consider the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) guidance on COVID-19. If your city decides to conduct any type of medical questionnaire (or temperature checks) of all employees and visitors entering the building, you will want to consider the following in addition to the EEOC guidance above:

  • Find an accurate method for measuring and use that method consistently with all employees and all visitors every day; if you are conducting temperature checks, make sure you can purchase a sufficient supply of the thermometers before making the decision to move forward.
  • Develop a protocol and train the employee who will be administering the checks or hire a third-party provider to do it.
    • Make sure you can obtain personal protective equipment required in order to do the checks, such as masks, gloves, and sanitizer.
  • Ensure that privacy issues are addressed; you will be collecting medical data on employees and visitors. Information should not be maintained in a single logbook because medical records of individual employees will be comingled with those of others. Compliance with data practices laws and the ADA remains a requirement during a pandemic.
  • Find an objective way to measure the medical information or temperature cutoff, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Definitions of Symptoms.
  • Check with your legal counsel on all procedures, especially whether the city can legally exclude visitors.
  • Be consistent with practices of sending employees home or rejecting visitors; if you make exceptions, it undermines the reasons for conducting the program.
  • Have a plan for assisting visitors who are not allowed into the building. This could be a flyer with contact information for city departments or taking the visitor’s contact information and having staff reach out to them.

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Q3. How will we know when our employees are ready to return to the worksite, both practically and psychologically?

A3. Employees will have a variety of concerns and issues to address before returning to work, such as the following:

  • Childcare issues. Even once most schools and day cares have reopened, many employees may have trouble finding appropriate childcare. Some may have gone out of business or delayed reopening or become too expensive.
  • Underlying conditions. Employees over a certain age or with underlying conditions, such as asthma, high blood pressure, or immunity issues, will have special concerns, and the city may need to consider a reasonable accommodation, such as a request for continued telework, special protective gear, or the ability to work hours when social distancing is easier. Executive Order 20-55 encourages people in high-risk categories to stay at home or in their place of residence except to engage in necessary activities, and those who can work from home must do so.  Thus, a city should strongly consider these requests and engage in interactive discussions if it cannot outright grant the request. A great resource document is from the EEOC: “Pandemic Preparedness in the Workplace and the Americans with Disabilities Act.
  • Fear of exposure without underlying conditions. People have different levels of tolerance for disease exposure. What can your city do to ensure they are comfortable re-entering the workspace? Actively listen to employees and ask about their specific concerns to determine if they are reasonable.

One way to assess your employees’ readiness is to do a brief online employee survey to find out where they are at — both psychologically and practically — and what will help them feel more secure about returning to the worksite.

—View Sample Employee Survey (doc)

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Q4. What kinds of precautionary safety measures do we need to take before returning more employees to the same worksite?

A4. The governor’s Executive Order 20-74 continues to state any worker who can work from home must do so to slow the spread of COVID-19.

For reference, Executive Order 20-33 asked Minnesotans not working in critical sectors to stay at home through May 4, 2020. This stay-at-home order was extended until May 18, 2020. On May 13, 2020, Executive Order 20-56 was issued, stating any workers who can work from home must do so and non-critical businesses choosing to open or remain open must establish and implement a COVID-19 Preparedness Plan. Each Plan must provide for the business’s implementation of Minnesota OSHA Standards and MDH and CDC Guidelines in their workplaces. To make the development of such a plan easier on employers, the Department of Labor and Industry (DLI) has developed a COVID-19 Preparedness Plan template that any employer could feel free to use, if helpful.

Pursuant to Gov. Walz E.O. 20-81, effective July 25, 2020, Minnesotans are required to wear a face covering in certain public setting to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

While adopting a COVID-19 Preparedness Plan previously was strongly suggested as a best practice to promote employee and visitor confidence in the safety of the workplace, Executive Order 20-74 now requires a COVID-19 Preparedness Plan to be developed and implemented by city halls by June 29, 2020. A city’s Preparedness Plan must be updated with the new face covering requirement outlined in E.O. 20-81. As a reference, the DEED model is a great one to also meet OSHA, MDH, and CDC standards. Industry guidance for all businesses (however, nothing specific to cities) is posted on the Stay Safe MN website. Cities, as critical businesses, must develop and implement a COVID-19 Preparedness Plan by June 29. Previously it had been communicated that, for cities operating other entities, such as a Driver and Vehicle Services offices, the state previously noted a Preparedness Plan must be completed before cities could resume those activities.

For customer-facing city services, DEED has provided a Preparedness Plan template and instructions. DEED notes, while organizations are not required to use the exact template, all plans developed must address components included in the State of Minnesota Industry Guidance developed for the type of business. While this template is not specific to cities, it may be helpful to consider incorporating this guidance into your city’s COVID-19 plans to promote employee and customer safety.  Plan components specific to customer service are outlined in the summary at the beginning of this web page.

DEED’s guidelines are based on MDH and CDC guidance and offer the basis for an employer’s plan to return employees to a worksite. They continue to recommend that if workers can work from home, they should be allowed to work from home and to make sure sick employees stay home. However, for those employers that need to return workers to the job site, they offer the following guidance:

  1. Establish health screening protocols for employees at start of shift, e.g., temperature taking, health screening survey. (See Q2.)
  2. Identify and isolate employees with COVID-19 symptoms, and those that have been exposed.
  3. Establish communication protocols when employees have been potentially exposed.
  4. Establish worker sickness reporting protocols.
  5. Evaluate and adjust sick leave policies to reflect need for isolation and incentivize workers who are sick to stay home.
  6. Clearly communicate sick leave polices to all employees.

Increase social distancing. Employees should be at least six feet away from each other and from customers. A few ways to accomplish this include:

  1. Stagger shifts and breaks; create additional shifts.
  2. Evaluate traffic patterns to reduce crowding at entrances, in hallways.
  3. Limit gatherings of employees.
  4. Ensure physical distance in workplaces, including workstations, productions lines, etc.
  5. Maximize the use of telecommuting.
  6. Limit non-essential employee interaction across floors, buildings, campuses, work sites.
  7. Increase physical space between employees and customers, e.g., drive-thru, partitions.

Facilitate employee hygiene and source control, including face coverings, by doing the following:

  1. Ensure employees regularly wash hands. Ensure hand washing and/or hand sanitizer facilities are readily available and stocked.
  2. Provide necessary protective equipment, e.g., masks, gloves, disinfectant, shields, etc.
  3. Post hand washing and cover your cough signs. The CDC offers several posters.
  4. In accordance with E.O. 20-81, require face coverings. Previously, the CDC recommended wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain especially in areas of significant community-based transmission. On June 28, 2020, the CDC noted, “Cloth face coverings are recommended as a simple barrier to help prevent respiratory droplets from traveling into the air and onto other people when the person wearing the cloth face covering coughs, sneezes, talks, or raises their voice. This is called source control. This recommendation is based on what we know about the role respiratory droplets play in the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19, paired with emerging evidence from clinical and laboratory studies that shows cloth face coverings reduce the spray of droplets when worn over the nose and mouth. COVID-19 spreads mainly among people who are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet), so the use of cloth face coverings is particularly important in settings where people are close to each other or where social distancing is difficult to maintain.”  The CDC offers a poster.
  5. Prohibit on-site food preparation and sharing.

Establish cleaning and disinfection protocols. While there is still a lot that is unknown about how long COVID-19 remains active on various surfaces, it is best to disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces at least daily and more often if possible.  While virus viability periods will vary under various temperatures, humidity levels, ventilation, and the amount of virus deposited, it can be helpful to consider the following when establishing cleaning protocols.

In a New England Journal of Medicine study, it was found the virus is viable for up to:

  • 72 hours on plastics.
  • 48 hours on stainless steel.
  • 24 hours on cardboard.
  • 4 hours on copper.

It is also detectable in the air for three hours or longer.

Source: HUB Report on COVID-19 Lifespan on Surfaces

The CDC notes it is unlikely the virus is spread from domestic or international mail, products or packaging. However, it may be possible that people can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes. Learn more about safe handling of deliveries and mail from the CDC website.

Cleaning and disinfection protocols should include the following:

  1. Routinely clean and disinfect all areas such as offices, bathrooms, common areas, shared electronic equipment, machinery, tools, and controls.
  2. Do minimal daily cleaning of all doorknobs, surfaces, and other areas touched by hands.
  3. Ensure availability of hand sanitizer and approved cleaning products. Also consider providing employees with a bottle of disinfectant on the EPA recommended list and gloves to disinfect their work spaces multiple times throughout the day.
  4. Decontaminate workplace if a worker becomes ill with COVID-19.

Management and employees should be trained in these protocols.

Here is additional detail on some of the items listed above:

  • Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Policy must address wearing masks pursuant to Gov. Walz E.O. 20-81 and should also address the wearing of gloves, use of hand sanitizer, cough and sneeze etiquette, to name a few. The policy should define what the city will provide and what the employee is expected to provide themselves. The state of Minnesota offers a variety of posters regarding face coverings. On May 7, 2020, MNOSHA advised the League no medical evaluation nor written respiratory protection program would be necessary for requiring cloth masks in the workplace. For more information, read this post on the League’s Pipeline blog: Understanding the Difference Between Alternative Masks and Respirators.
  • Cleaning and sanitizing procedures. Define what the city will do as far as extra cleaning of the worksite and individual workstations versus what the employees are expected to do with their own work areas and with shared electronic equipment. Think through how quickly your supply of cleaning materials will last. Will there be a protocol around touching door handles of bathrooms for example? Consider posting hand washing posters in bathrooms.
  • Extra cleaning after an exposure. The CDC has guidance for precautionary measures to take when someone in the workplace has been exposed or diagnosed with COVID-19. See CDC — Disinfecting Guidelines for more information.
  • Social distancing. Other considerations:
    • Staggered work schedules (e.g., 7-3; 9-5, etc.).
    • Seating in every other cube.
    • Open workspaces and cafeterias measured off in six-foot increments.
    • How will the city handle this for restrooms?  Some cities are restricting public access to employee use restrooms and incorporating visual measures like signage on an outside restroom door, so others know when spaces are occupied.
    • This information regarding social distancing to protect municipal liquor store employees may also be helpful: Protecting Your Liquor Store Employees.
    • Read more about social distancing and infection prevention control measures (doc).
  • Visitors and deliveries. Contact-free food delivery, limits on visitors, limits on cash handling for business transactions. Make sure it’s clear the city will make alternate arrangements to provide services to individuals denied access.
  • Face-to-face meetings. Eliminate face-to-face meetings or ease back into them with mandatory social distancing.
  • Travel and external meeting restrictions. Ensure employees know the policy on employee travel and external meetings.
  • Mandatory reporting of exposure/illness. Require employees to report if they’ve had an exposure to COVID-19 as defined by the CDC guidance or if they themselves become ill.
  • For customer-facing services, review DEED guidance for plan components specific to customer service (outlined in the summary at the beginning of this webpage).

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Q5. How should we communicate our decision to return to the worksite with our employees?

A5. The city will want to share the information in a way that reassures employees you have carefully thought through the decision and have taken all the necessary precautions for their safety. Specifically, communicate:

  • The time frame for return and who will return in what order.
  • Changes in scheduling.
  • Policy changes (see Q4), including face covering requirements pursuant to E. O. 20-81.
  • Emphasis on sanitizing and cleaning measures and PPE available.
  • What has NOT changed; what policies are still in effect (e.g., policies on staying home/leaving work if sick, health benefits, paid leave opportunities, EAP, ability to speak with supervisor or HR about concerns, etc.).

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Q6. What are we obligated to share if someone becomes ill?

A6. The city cannot identify the infected worker’s name. Please see Question 10 of City Employment Issues During COVID-19 Pandemic for more information on what and how to share.

While COVID-19 testing remains limited, the city may want to treat a “presumptive positive” diagnosis, where an employee has consulted a healthcare provider and been advised to self-isolate, the same as an actual diagnosis.

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Q7. Are there any other miscellaneous legal issues to think about?

A7. Yes. Here are a few:

  • While scheduling the workforce is generally a management right, other terms and conditions related to how a policy impacts employees is generally negotiable; for example, some unions have begun asking for hazard pay associated with working during the pandemic. See Labor Relations Issues During COVID-19 Pandemic for more information.
  • The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) is now in effect; make sure the mandatory posting has occurred at the worksite.
  • It is possible employees of Asian descent or other persons of color will be discriminated against or harassed; the city may want to remind employees that discrimination and harassment will not be tolerated.
  • Legal experts caution that returning employees to the worksite in a manner that discriminates against a protected class will likely be problematic (e.g., older workers and pregnant employees mandated to stay home). Instead, they recommend beginning the return to the worksite process voluntarily, by allowing employees the choice of returning to work or not.  This also aids in keeping a smaller number of employees in the building, allowing for greater social distancing.

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Q8. What should our city be thinking about as we start to plan — beyond the short-term logistical issues?

A8. There are several issues to keep in mind, including:

  • Financial issues. Cities will have extra expenses and reduced revenues before, during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. Some will be relatively easy to quantify. Other costs may be more difficult to quantify, such as:
    • Sending public works crews out in separate vehicles to maintain social distancing.
    • Technology needed to maintain remote operations.
    • Additional PPE costs.
    • Overtime due to absences of other staff.
    • Impacts of the workers’ compensation presumption for first responders. See Insurance Trust Coverage Response During COVID-19 Pandemic for more information.

—Read about financial considerations during the pandemic

—Read about layoffs and HR cost-saving measures

  • Extended or long-term telework. It is likely a significant portion of the workforce will have adapted to telework and will push harder for a policy to allow this, in addition to greater flexibility around work schedules. If the city has not had widespread telework opportunities prior to the pandemic but now anticipates that changing, it will want to develop a policy on remote work and address things like what technology the city will and will not provide, ergonomic issues, timekeeping, etc.
  • Travel and training. If the city cuts back on conferences and in-person training opportunities for staff due to financial constraints, it may want to increase online opportunities. Many vendors offer group pricing contracts. The League also has some offerings in this area and is continuing to explore additional member opportunities. Read more about the League’s online learning opportunities.
  • Labor relations issues. As employees return to worksites or to their daily “new normal” routines, some labor relations issues may crop up. While many policy issues are in the realm of “management rights,” even those often need to be negotiated as to the impact. At the national level, at least one major union leader has stated publicly that workers should not go back to their jobs unless federal regulators put new safety measures in place to safeguard against the spread of COVID-19. Read Layoffs and HR Cost-Saving Measures (pdf)
  • Medical and Mental Health Issues. Once a vaccine is available to prevent COVID-19, the city may want to consider the following options:
    • Paid time off to get the shot.
    • Provide the shot free to employees.
    • Host a clinic.

There may be mental health issues associated with COVID-19. Employees may have co-workers, friends, and family who have died, experienced severe illness, or lost jobs. Promote use of the employee assistance program (EAP) or other resources to employees.

  • Returning employees after a layoff. The amount of time the city laid off an employee may impact what the city needs to do in order to rehire that person. For example, if the employee remained on benefits and it was a shorter duration (for example, less than six months), the city may not have to repeat the entire hiring process to bring the employee back. Some things to consider:
    • Were vacation or other termination benefits paid out?
    • Form I-9 documentation; as a general rule, if you rehire an employee within three years of completion of a previous I-9, you can either complete a new I-9 or Section 3 of the previously completed Form I-9. See U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services Reverification and Rehire.
    • Was the layoff labeled as “temporary,” “indefinite,” or “permanent”?
    • Have the duties changed significantly, and will the changes impact their exempt versus non-exempt status with regard to overtime eligibility?
    • In other cases, for example for a Department of Transportation (DOT) driver, specific rules regarding drug and alcohol testing must be addressed prior to having the worker perform safety sensitive functions. For example, according to Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration regulations, if a driver is considered to be an employee of the city during the extended (layoff) period, a pre-employment test would not be required so long as the driver has been included in the city’s random testing program during the layoff period. However, if the driver was not considered to be an employee of the city at any point during the layoff period, was not covered by a program, or was not covered for more than 30 days, then a pre-employment test would be required upon a call back.
  • Leadership issues and communication. As always, it will be important for top leadership to create a positive and hopeful environment. Employees will likely be mourning the loss of the “old days” with co-workers, as well as disrupted friendships and routines.

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Q9. What employment issues should our city start thinking about for the longer term?

A9. Here are some longer-term issues your city should consider:

  • Workforce planning. Experts are saying COVID-19 will have many financial and psychological affects that may impact the retirement plans of Baby Boomers. Senior staff may delay retirements due to investment losses, resulting in Gen X middle managers seeing fewer opportunities to move up. Keeping your employees motivated and working well together may be even more challenging in the post-COVID world.
  • Future pay structures. In the short term, cities may be able to negotiate wage concessions or at least “hold-the-line” contracts, but in the post-COVID-19 future, what will employees want most when it comes to pay and benefits? The security of a really strong health insurance plan? More contributions to deferred compensation to rebuild their investments? A secure and stable step-based pay plan? While it’s still too early to tell for sure, cities should start thinking about possible changes to pay and benefits post-COVID.
  • Efficiencies associated with streamlined processes. As the city’s workforce has adapted to telework, will the city see increased efficiencies as outdated paperwork processes are required to be updated? How will these efficiencies affect staffing needs?
  • Reputation as an employer post-COVID-19. While Boomer retirements may be delayed due to COVID-19, they will eventually come, and most likely there will still be workforce shortages and competition for talent at some point. Some human resources experts are predicting that job seekers in the post-COVID world will be researching prospective employers to find out how their employees were treated during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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—Access more COVID-19 News and Resources