On April 24, 2020, Governor Hogan issued “Maryland Strong: Roadmap to Recovery,” his plan for reopening the state as the COVID-19 pandemic crisis begins to ease. This plan is of critical interest and importance to Maryland employers, and we outline the plan here. This Roadmap is quite general in nature, as would be expected, given that there are many moving parts in play. But it provides some overall guidance as to the order in which certain businesses can expect to resume operations.
Among the major principles underpinning the Roadmap, the Governor specifically set forth the following, which will continue as Maryland moves through the stages of reopening until the State of Emergency has been lifted:
- Employers and employees should continue with telework plans even as reopening actions are underway, in order to reduce the risk of workplace infection.
- Marylanders should continue to wear face coverings or masks in indoor public places.
- Marylanders should continue to practice physical distancing.
The Governor directed the creation of 13 Industry Recovery Advisory Groups that are developing recommendations and best practices for resuming operations in each of the following industries:
- Restaurants and Bars
- Professional and Financial Services
- Personal Services, and Small Business
- Construction and Development
The Roadmap is divided into three multi-phased stages: Low Risk, Medium Risk, and High Risk. Notably, changes to the plan may be made at any time, as warranted by public health and economic conditions. The Roadmap will allow for regional differences and offer some flexibility to county and municipal health officials to expand or restrict activities, including of specific businesses, at each stage within set parameters.
Under the White House’s gating protocols, a 14-day downward trajectory or plateauing of benchmark metrics is required before each recovery stage. The primary gating metric for the Roadmap will be the current COVID-19 hospitalization rate. Certain triggers, such as new outbreaks or increased strain on medical resources, would result in a slowing of the plans at any time.
This stage would see a lifting the “Stay-Home” Order, as well as the phased reopening of the following types of businesses and activities:
- Small shops and certain small businesses
- Curbside pickup and drop-off for businesses
- Elective medical and dental procedures at ambulatory, outpatient, and medical offices
- Limited attendance outdoor religious gatherings
- Recreational boating, fishing, golf, tennis, hiking, and hunting
- Car washes
- Limited outdoor gym and fitness classes
- Outdoor work with appropriate distancing measures
- Some personal services
The next stage is expected to proceed over a longer period of time, and will likely involve the following:
- Raising the cap on social gatherings
- Indoor gyms and fitness classes
- Childcare centers
- Transit schedules begin returning to normal
- Indoor religious gatherings
- Restaurants and bars with restrictions
- Elective and outpatient procedures at hospitals
“Safe Reopen Plans” will be developed for each sector of the economy designated as high risk for COVID-19 spread. Examples of changes that could be implemented in this stage include the following:
- Larger social gatherings
- High-capacity bars and restaurants
- Lessened restrictions on visits to nursing homes and hospitals
- Entertainment venues
- Larger religious gatherings.
Because many workers are parents of school-aged children, the reopening of school systems has an impact on the availability of such workers. The Roadmap contemplates some regional/county-by-county approaches, given the varying risk profiles of different counties and jurisdictions.
What This Means for Employers
As employers plan to resume operations in accordance with the Roadmap, they must take steps to ensure that the transition is thoughtful and minimizes risk to employees and visitors to the workplace. In general terms, the elements of a reopening plan will likely include the following considerations:
- Returning to work. Deciding the order of employees to bring back to work as operations ramp up, and ensuring selections are not discriminatory. Determining the impact on benefits and compensation for employees returning to work after a lengthy absence and where resumed operations differ from the norm.
- Workplace hygiene and safety. Ensuring that workplace hygiene protocols and procedures are in place, which may include worker/visitor screening, use of protective equipment such as masks/face coverings/gloves (which may require training and making such equipment available), posting of social distancing reminders, extensive and frequent cleaning, making disinfectants available, etc.
- Social distancing. Adopting social distancing measures for employees and visitors, which may include reorganization of work spaces, creation of physical barriers, modification of work schedules, use of meeting technologies, etc.
- Developing a communications plan to keep employees informed about ongoing activities to minimize COVID-19 spread and to allow employees to report concerns or ask questions.
- Illness in the workplace. Implementing a plan to address workplace issues arising from employees who develop symptoms or test positive for COVID-19.
- Reviewing leave policies. Ensuring compliance with leave requirements under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, the Family and Medical Leave Act, and the Maryland Healthy Working Families Act, as applicable. Reviewing other leave policies to provide flexibility to employees personally impacted by COVID-19.
Each of these items, and the various components contained within, implicate legal issues under various workplace laws, including discrimination, accommodations, wage and hour, workplace safety, benefits and leave. Thus, employers should consult with counsel as they begin making reopening plans.
This is obviously a fast-moving and ever-changing situation, and we will continue to send out E-Lerts on any significant developments. You may also wish to check our FAQs frequently, which we continually update.