White-collar workplaces face legal minefield in reopening

Companies are wary of reopening offices due to the risk of exposing employees to COVID-19. They are also worried about their own legal exposure should staff get sick.

As virus cases surge in nearly every state, offices around the country have stayed largely closed or only partially reopened, and not just because of health concerns. For white-collar workplaces, the pandemic has required compliance with the kind of complex workplace-safety regulations that, until recently, applied more to industrial settings than to offices.

Office spaces that fail to comply with the requirements face a liability threat few had to think about before the pandemic, The Wall Street Journal reports. 

“A white-collar company is not used to having this much burden from a workplace-safety standpoint,” says Travis Vance, an attorney at employment firm Fisher Phillips LLP who estimates he has advised 600 companies on COVID-19-related questions. Of those looking to reopen, he says, about one-quarter have decided the legal requirements are too challenging.  

The list of rules and guidelines employers must consult when reopening offices is varied, including guidance from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the CDC. It also includes regulations at the local and state levels.  

Beyond concern about possible illness, reopening offices presents a host of privacy concerns and related challenges, including how to store biometric information collected from employee temperature and symptom checks. Read the full story.