On April 20th, Governor Brian P. Kemp announced that businesses in Georgia will gradually be able to start opening within a week. There are arguments to support the reopening of the economy. But more importantly, what is being done to protect the safety of workers during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Opening Up America Again
Just last week, the Trump administration provided governors a 3-stage approach to reopening each state. Before beginning the reopening process, each state should “downward trajectory of documented cases within a 14-day period”. To progress to the next stage, two more weeks of decreased positive cases must be obtained. Phase One supports telework, where possible, and the ability for large venues (restaurants and move theaters) to operate with strict social distancing guidelines. Bars should remain closed.
Plan to Reopen Georgia
Gov. Kemp stated that Georgia has met the gating requirement and is ready to proceed with the reopening plan. “According to the Department of Public Health, reports of emergency room visits for flu-like illnesses are declining, documented COVID-19 cases have flattened and appear to be declining.” On Friday, April 24th, fitness centers, hair designers, massage therapists, and similar fields can reopen in Georgia. In an interview with CNN, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms expressed concerns about opening Georgia back up at this time. “I am perplexed that we have opened up in this way. … As I look at the data and as I talk with our public health officials, I don’t see that it’s based on anything that’s logical.”
Keeping Employees Safe
Businesses open in Georgia must follow a list of health precautions including the screening workers for fever and respiratory illness, separating workspaces by at least six feet, and wearing gloves and masks, if appropriate. The 20-point list was provided during the Governor’s press conference.
Will this work? Is this enough to keep Georgians safe?
Employers are advised to provide “personal protective equipment (PPE) as available and appropriate to the function and location of the worker with the business location”. The above precaution sides with the employer, not the employee. In the recommendation from the state of Georgia, the employer decides if the worker needs a face mask to keep them or the public safe. Sadly, OSHA guidelines, at this time, currently side with the employer. The primary law that governs workplace safety for most workers is the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (OSH Act). Medium exposure risk employees, such as those in a retail environment, could come in close contact with someone that might be infected. Medium risk businesses should install sneeze guards and should also consider providing PPE. Forbes does not predict additional requirements on behalf of OSHA in the midst of the pandemic.
The Families First Coronavirus Response Act requires certain, but not all, employers to provide paid sick leave to employees who are sick or need to quarantine or self-isolate. Twelve states and Washington D.C. have enacted laws to require paid sick leave. Georgia is NOT one of these states. Bottom line, the current legal guidelines do not require ALL employers to keep employees safe from COVID-19.
Georgia Workers’ Compensation
The state of Georgia implements a number of laws in regards to workers’ compensation, intended to protect workers and allow them to seek rightful compensation for work-related injury or illness. If you believe you are in danger at work in violation of OSH Act, we can help you file a complaint with OSHA. Employees are protected from retaliation under Section 11(c) of the OSH Act. More importantly, if you believe that you have been exposed to or contracted COVID-19, as a result of work-related job duties, you should immediately notify your employer and Hines Law. We will be happy to serve as an expert resource on all the workers’ compensation laws in Georgia. Having a legal advocate on your side is vital to ensure an optimal outcome.