Social Distancing Policy
This is an employee policy on social distancing (also known as physical distancing). Employers may use this policy to provide protocols to help maintain a safe and healthy workplace. Specifically, employers can use this policy when reopening after closures caused by the 2019 novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic. Please note that this policy is jurisdiction-neutral and is based on general guidelines issued by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Additionally, this policy includes various other social distancing measures that employers may adopt depending on their industry, location, and workforce composition. Because state and local reopening standards and requirements may vary by jurisdiction, employers should modify this policy to comply with applicable state and local reopening standards and requirements.
Employers may incorporate this policy into an employee handbook or use it as a stand-alone policy document.
All employers have a general duty to provide a safe working environment under the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act). The 2019 novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) global pandemic has created additional health and safety challenges for employers. As stay-at-home orders are lifted or relaxed, employers reopening their businesses must take steps not only to maintain a safe and healthy workplace but to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has found that limiting close face-to-face contact with others is the best way to reduce the spread of the virus (CDC: Social Distancing). The CDC recommends keeping at least six feet (about two arms’ length) distance from people not within an individual’s household, both when indoors and outdoors. The CDC also recommends practicing social distancing combined with other protective measures, including:
- Wearing face masks or other cloth face coverings to help prevent virus spread when going out in public, especially when social distancing is not possible.
- General hygiene measures, such as:
- Avoiding touching one’s face with unwashed hands; and
- Frequently washing one’s hands with soap for at least 20 seconds.
OSHA similarly recommends that employers develop social distancing measures as they prepare workplaces to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic (OSHA: Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19). In June 2020, OSHA published more specific reopening recommendations based on nine guiding principles. OSHA’s guidance does not have the force of law or regulation. Nevertheless, OSHA recommends that employers implement various social distancing measures as part of their administrative controls, including:
- Limiting business occupancy to the number of workers and customers that allow for social distancing. OSHA recognizes that while six feet is the general “rule of thumb” that may change depending on future virus spread and other criteria.
- Marking six-feet zones on floors or walls in key areas where individuals frequently congregate, such as restrooms, check-out lines, and time clock locations.
- Posting signs reminding workers, customers, and visitors to maintain at least six feet between one another.
- Posting directional signs in hallways or corridors that are too narrow to allow for social distancing.
- Staggering work shifts.
- Limiting breakroom capacity.
- Replacing in-person meetings with video-conference calls.
Returning to Work Guidelines
Employers can use this policy when reopening their workplaces and adapting to the “new norm” in the COVID-19 era. This policy may be used to:
- Inform employees of the importance of social distancing measures and set expectations for both employers and employees.
- Describe the specific changes to workplace and business practices necessary to accomplish appropriate social distancing, including conduct that is:
- allowed with adherence to certain protocols; and
- recommended if feasible.
Employers may incorporate this policy into an employee handbook or an existing health and safety policy or use it as a stand-alone policy document. However, because the policy likely includes protocols and concepts previously unfamiliar to most employees, it is preferable that employers:
- Separately distribute the policy to employees before they return to the workplace.
- Train managers and employees (ideally before they return to work, perhaps by conducting a remote meeting) on the importance of compliance and the employer’s commitment to enforcing the policy.
- Inform employees about where to find answers to additional questions.
Employers also should require employees to acknowledge receipt, review, and understanding of the policy. This Standard Document has integrated notes with important explanations and drafting tips. Employers must recognize that state and local requirements for reopening vary and guidance regarding best practices changes rapidly. Because not all questions are answered by available legal guidance, employers must make judgment calls and exercise discretion. Employers should modify this policy as needed to address physical issues, staffing, and business practices in their specific workplaces. Additionally, employers should modify this policy to comply with state or local law or guidance applicable to the various phases of business reopening.
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