Distancing, PPE Top In-House Attys' Checklists For Reopening

By Xiumei Dong
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Law360 (July 16, 2020, 7:31 PM EDT) -- As companies explore their options for bringing employees back to the office, in-house lawyers are most concerned about ensuring social distancing and having enough personal protective equipment to go around, according to a survey released Thursday by advisory firm Gartner Inc.

Of the 95 corporate lawyers polled by the firm, 95% said social distancing arrangements would have to be in place before their companies ask employees to return to the workplace, while 79% are working to ensure enough PPE is available.

According to Brian Lee, managing vice president in Gartner's legal and compliance practice, about half of the lawyers expect their companies to reopen some workplaces for employees this month.

"In most cases, however, things will look very different for employees, and employers will need to make significant changes to workspace planning and acquire new resources such as PPE," Lee said in a statement.

The survey also showed that most corporate lawyers want their companies to take measures such as creating safe work playbooks, screening visitors and regularly checking employees for visible COVID-19 symptoms. Those measures each got support from 50% to 60% of respondents.

Other more cumbersome options, including contact tracing, antibody testing and requiring health certificates, were not seen as viable by most, garnering less than 20% of support each.

"Several of these measures present quite serious legal, compliance and privacy concerns," Lee said. He explained that the relative popularity of certain measures among the in-house lawyers is likely associated with the difficulty of ensuring compliance with continually changing laws and regulations.

"How companies check for symptoms, track employee movements and contacts, and collect test information could lead to serious privacy issues," Lee said.

Therefore, in terms of preparing the workplace, the more favorable approaches for companies are to ensure that they have enough protective equipment and that their offices meet social distancing requirements, Lee said.

For example, he advised employers to examine their common workplace areas, such as kitchens, conference rooms and cafeterias, and adjust them to allow for distancing. It's also important to identify nonessential "high-touch" areas, such as light switches, door handles, whiteboard pens and remote controls, and remove them where possible, he said.

However, "these measures will have a limited effect unless employees understand the risks and how to mitigate them," Lee said, advising companies to conduct training and put guidelines in place to prepare employees for a return.

--Editing by Aaron Pelc.

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