Masks, Sanitizer Recommended As New Norm For NY Firms

By Kevin Penton
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Law360 (May 13, 2020, 1:15 PM EDT) -- Going home at the first symptoms of illness, bottomless supplies of hand sanitizer, wearing masks inside the office and erring on the side of working virtually are among the new realities that law firms should embrace as they look ahead to reopen, the New York State Bar Association said Wednesday.

The bar association released a model reopening plan that it recommends firms in New York follow after state and local officials tell them that it is OK for them to reopen from the shutdown orders resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. And according to the bar association, workplaces should begin laying the groundwork now.

While the bar association anticipates that law firms generally will be included in the second phase of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's reopening plan, NYSBA President Hank Greenberg noted that the phase likely will be implemented at different times in different sectors of New York state, with locales in New York City likely needing to wait until later.

"People should think about how they will reopen before they reopen," Greenberg told Law360 on Wednesday. "No one should be figuring this out on Day One."

For physical changes, firms should think of places that multiple employees would need to touch and craft creative ways of minimizing those locations. They should install physical barriers for employees who work in areas with heavy foot traffic and stagger workstations, according to the guidelines.

Attorneys and staff should be encouraged to bring their own food, sanitizer should be readily accessible, and reasonable restrictions should be placed on the use of common areas such as bathrooms, copiers and refrigerators, according to the association.

Firms should also look to restrict visitors from going to branch offices, limit in-person meetings in the office at first, emphasize the need for social distancing and encourage lawyers and staff to use technology when it is possible for matters such as mediations, depositions, hearings and arguments, the guidelines say.

And firms should encourage those who can work effectively from home to continue doing so until state and local officials allow for a more generalized return, stagger the work hours of those who must come into the office, encourage employees to avoid going for unnecessary strolls through the office and set up one-way foot traffic patterns if possible, according to the association.

Attorneys and staff should be encouraged to wear masks and stay home if they feel sick, be required to self-report and self-isolate should they know they have the virus and be discouraged from using mass transit, according to the guidelines.

"In a COVID-19 world, if someone sneezes, they shouldn't be in the office," Greenberg said.

--Editing by Jack Karp.

Update: This story has been updated to include more information about the guidelines.

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