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Updated CDC Guidance: COVID-19 Employer Information for Office Buildings

Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (the “CDC”) issued updated guidance detailing steps employers and office building managers should take prior to reopening. This guidance follows the beginning stages of most states’ business reopening efforts. The guidance focuses on four major topics: Evaluation of the Workspace, Assessment of Risk, Implementation of Workplace Controls, and Education.  In short, the guidance encourages employers to evaluate and address potential COVID-19 related hazards, and provides steps businesses can take to minimize exposure or transmission once their doors are opened. This new guidance echoes and supplements the CDC’s previous interim guidance as well as OSHA guidance, particularly with respect to the implementation of hazard controls.[1]  We summarize significant portions of the CDC’s updated guidance below:

Key Information for Office-Based Employers

Creation and Implementation of COVID-19 Workplace Health and Safety Plan

All employers are encouraged to develop a COVID-19 workplace health and safety plan in order to protect both employees and visitors (i.e. clients or customers). The CDC encourages employers to implement and update as necessary a plan specific to its workplace, which identifies all areas and job tasks with potential exposures to COVID-19, and includes control measures to eliminate or reduce such exposures. This plan should be in accordance with applicable state and local orders, OSHA guidance, and other applicable agency guidance. The CDC refers employers to its CDC Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers for guidelines and recommendations on creating a plan.

Evaluation of Offices and Buildings

Prior to reopening offices to employees, the CDC recommends employers (and building management) evaluate whether the building is “ready” for reentry and occupancy.  This involves checking heating, air flow or ventilation, and air conditioning systems; ensuring the system(s) are working properly; and increasing circulation of outdoor air where possible.  In addition, employers should verify any other systems (e.g., mechanical and life safety systems) are operational, and no other hazards associated with unoccupied buildings exist (e.g., rodents, mold, or stagnant water).

Assessment of Risk

Employers should conduct a “thorough hazard assessment” of the office to identify where and how employees could potentially be exposed to COVID-19 in the office or office building (e.g., common areas or break rooms).  Depending on the assessed risk of exposure or transmission, the employer should consider implementing various safety measures and workplace controls.

Implementing Workplace Controls

In line with OSHA’s Guidance (and as discussed in parts two and three of our COVID-19 Roadmap Series), the CDC suggests developing hazard controls using the “hierarchy of controls,” including: engineering controls to isolate workers from hazards (e.g., taking steps to reconfigure workspaces and physically separate employees to allow for social distancing or improving ventilation)[2] and administrative controls to modify or change how individuals work (e.g., encouraging employees who are sick to stay home; screening employees prior to entry into the workplace; requiring facial coverings; providing incentives for employees who regularly use public transportation).

Education of Employees and Supervisors

The CDC’s updated guidance continually stresses the importance of communication with employees and other workplace constituents regarding actions the employer is taking to protect its employees and reduce the risk of exposure or transmission.  These communications (including posters and notices) should be frequent and easy to understand. Topics employer should cover include: symptoms of COVID-19, staying home when sick, social distancing, hygiene protocols, masks and personal protective equipment (“PPE”), and best practices for minimizing transmission in the workplace (as well as outside of work).  

Parting Thoughts

At a minimum, the CDC’s updated guidance reiterates the importance of employer preparedness, hygiene protocols, and communications with employees in order to keep them apprised of the steps being taken to protect them. While the CDC’s guidance is not binding, it is a valuable resource for employers looking to protect their workforce as they return to the office and those seeking to update or improve their COVID-19 workplace plans. Employers should also be aware that multiple states’ reopening requirements (for example, those recently issued in California, Massachusetts, and New York) either require or recommend that businesses comply with the CDC’s guidance.

For a more in-depth look at the issues employers face in reopening their workplaces, you can access Mintz's COVID-19 Reopening Roadmap Series here:
Preparing for the New Workplace Paradigm Series: a Roadmap for Employers in the Time of COVID-19


[2] Of particular interest, the CDC also suggests that employers utilize engineering controls such as “replac[ing] high-touch communal items, [including] coffee pots, water coolers, and bulk snacks, with alternatives such as pre-packaged, single-serving items,” and that employers “consider using ultraviolet germicidal irradiation (UVGI) as a supplement to help inactivate the virus.”

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Delaney Busch is a Mintz associate in the firm's Boston office. Focusing on federal and state employment matters, Delaney defends clients against claims of discrimination, sexual misconduct, harassment, and wage and hour violations in federal and state courts and before administrative agencies. Her clients have included Fortune 500 companies, insurance companies, prominent medical providers, manufacturers, and luxury fitness facilities.