As law firms reopen across the country, the strategy behind the preparations includes deciding what types of PPE will be required and whether or not the law firm is responsible for providing it.
Some examples of PPE include gloves, face shields and face masks.
OSHA requirements state employers must “furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees”.
Under this provision, it can be difficult for law firms to interpret whether or not they are responsible for providing PPE upon return to the workplace. Since no regulation exists covering airborne diseases, COVID-19 doesn’t have the same legal requirements as items that are covered.
However, that doesn’t mean law firms should assume no liability. OSHA did publish guidelines indicating what PPE should be provided given the level of risk associated with an employee’s tasks. For those with low-level risk, PPE is likely not necessary. If your team is interacting with clients or there are a number of people in the office, the risk may be increased and therefore PPE could then be considered required.
State and considerations
While federal guidelines don’t require providers to give their employees PPE, there are varying state guidelines to consider. In some states, employers are responsible for footing the bill for their staff’s face masks and more. For example, in New York employers of essential businesses must provide their staff with face masks. In Connecticut, even those in offices are required to provide their staff with adequate PPE, including face masks, as part of an office reopening certification checklist.
Law firms should also think about general office morale and culture in determining what to provide to their employees. Having staff feel safe and valued in the workplace can have a significant impact on productivity and retention.
Be sure to consult with your state’s required guidelines to determine whether or not your law firm should begin stocking face masks and other protective equipment in preparation for opening. If you do need to purchase face masks, states are requesting employers purchase something other than medical grade masks in order to leave that supply for hospital and emergency personnel.