Some Georgia companies may believe that Governor Brian Kemp’s April 30th Executive Order that will further remove many of the COVID-19 safety requirements that were included in previous Executive Orders – including the lifting of the face mask mandate and relaxation Social distancing requirements – can help you meet your COVID-19 protocols at work and at your place of business. However, this could expose itself to significant liability in light of the OSHA guidelines, which remain firmly anchored. While you should make sure you understand all aspects of the latest governor’s order, do not rush to get your security policies down anytime soon. What do employers need to know about this order and what should employers do if they continue to open and operate their businesses?
Differences between the last order and previous orders
The April 30th Executive Order – valid until May 30th – removes many additional requirements from previous orders. For example:
- Masks and face coverings are no longer required;
- social distancing is now recommended, but not mandatory, for the general public;
- Seats and capacities in restaurants and cinemas are no longer limited. and
- There are no longer any specific requirements for gyms, salons, barber shops and sporting events.
However, the social distancing requirements for workers remain firmly entrenched. In addition, state law continues to require physical barriers at point of sale for businesses, and the April 30th Executive Ordinance continues to allow local governments to require masks under a Local Option Face Covering requirement like the one currently in place in Atlanta.
As a reminder, the Executive Order of March 31st pulled away from Georgia managing authority to shut down a business for non-compliance with the Executive Order of March 31st and removed the following country-specific COVID-19 mitigation measures:
- Limiting the number of people in a single place (formerly known as “Meetings” and limited to 50 people);
- the need for the medically vulnerable and people to be placed in long-term care facilities;
- the requirement that restaurant and bar seating be six feet apart or separated by partitions (this requirement is now 42 inches or partitions);
- certain hygiene requirements for restaurants and bars, including not using hand sanitizer for users;
- Critical Infrastructure Measures (these have been combined with the current requirements for all companies);
- the spatial and capacity restrictions for hairdressers, salons, tanning systems and similar businesses;
- All cinema-specific requirements, with the exception that the 6-foot separation rule for cinema-goers is now reduced to three feet.
- any specific requirements for bowling alleys, circuses, water parks, schools, camps, long-term care facilities (these facilities must now comply with more specific instructions from the Georgian Ministry of Health);
- most childcare-specific requirements; and
- the patron screening requirement and other hygiene measures for live venues.
What do most employers have to do under Georgian Executive Orders?
The April 30th Executive Order requires schools to follow the latest school-specific guidelines from the Georgia Department of Public Health and the CDC. Most other employers still need to take steps to contain the spread of COVID-19. These measures can include:
- any measures that have been shown to be effective to control the spread of COVID-19;
- Screening and evaluating workers with COVID-19 symptoms;
- Workers who have symptoms of COVID-19 do not need to report to work or see a doctor;
- Signs must be posted at entrances to the facility stating that anyone diagnosed with COVID-19 has symptoms of COVID-19 or has had contact with someone who has COVID-19 in the past 14 months Days has been suspected or is suspected not to be allowed to enter the facility;
- if necessary, improvement of sanitary facilities;
- Regular disinfection of frequently touched surfaces, including but not limited to PIN entry devices, signature pads and other POS devices, door handles and light switches;
- Increasing the space between workers’ workplaces to maintain social distancing;
- Permission for workers to take breaks and meals outdoors, in their office or personal workspace, or in other areas where appropriate social distancing is possible;
- when the organization hires volunteers or allows members of the public to participate in activities, volunteer or participate in activities for people diagnosed with COVID-19 who have shown symptoms of COVID-19 or have had contact with someone who has suspected or suspected COVID-19 within the last 14 days; and
- Ensuring proper operation of ventilation systems and increasing air circulation and cleaning in the facilities where possible.
What should employers do?
Federal OSHA is responsible for occupational safety issues in Georgia, and employers could still be listed under the general mandatory clause if they fail to follow federal OSHA and CDC guidelines. Therefore, as we advised employers when the CDC relaxed its COVID-19 guidelines, you should follow OSHA’s stricter guidelines for their workplaces – even as more workers and members of the public are vaccinated. So far, OSHA’s guidelines have been based heavily on current CDC guidelines, and the CDC continues to recommend wearing face-coverings. In other words, you shouldn’t cancel your mask mandate for employees or visitors to your company.
In addition, as explained here, OSHA is still considering issuing an emergency standard for COVID-19. And as discussed in detail here, a few months ago OSHA passed a National Priority Program (NEP) for COVID-19. Given the increased resources OSHA will use under the NEP to enforce existing safety standards and the general mandatory clause of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, you should now follow a five-step plan to prepare for a visit to OSHA, including accepting a written one COVID-19 policy. The Virginia Model COVID-19 Response Plan is a good starting point for creating a COVID-19 plan that is in line with Fed-OSHA guidelines.
Although Georgia is eliminating certain Georgia-specific requirements related to COVID-19 mitigation because the CDC and OSHA have not eliminated all COVID-19 mitigation measures and cities in Georgia can continue to require face covers, all employers should continue to monitor occupational safety and improve bring more and more employees back to work in the coming months.