The rapidly evolving impacts of COVID-19 has kept AGC/VT members and their teams busy. To help you stay on top of changes, every Wednesday AGC/VT will host a virtual Mid-Week Meet for members.
Featuring special guests and leaders in the construction industry, business, and government members will gain powerful insights, updates, and guidance designed to help them navigate business and life during COVID-19.
Our first Mid-Week Meet was led by AGC/VT member and construction attorney, Joseph A. Barra, Esq., of Robinson+Cole, LLP (R+C), who hosted a panel discussion on practical considerations for Labor and Employment, OSHA, and Construction Claims Management in our new COVID-19 environment.
The panel included Barra, a partner in R+C’s Construction Law Practice Group and who is also a degreed civil engineer. His 30-year practice focuses solely on construction law. Other noted panelists included Matthew T. Miklave, Esq., who is a partner in R+C’s Labor & Employment Group and who has over 30 years of experience advising clients on issues involving the workplace. Rounding out our special guests was Patrick J. Griffin, former Area Director for the Providence, RI OSHA Area Office where he was responsible for all health & safety matters for the Ocean State, and who has over 30 years of OSHA and who worked during the SARS outbreak.
Below are four key takeaways from the presentation.
Please note, none of the information in this article constitutes legal advice. Please contact your attorney of choice for all legal guidance, advice, and assistance.
- “Normal” employment rules and standards continue to apply. Beware of asking questions that pertain to a “protected class” (i.e.: age, underlying health conditions, etc.). Additionally, the Americans with Disabilities Act generally bans medical tests for employees. However, because COVID presents a danger to public health, certain kinds of tests are deemed permissible during the period of this Public Health Emergency. So, temperature checks are permissible, as are tests for COVID-19 infection; but COVID-19 immunity tests are not. A contractor’s failure to exercise due care to protect its workers is still a lightning rod for an employer’s exposure, as is a failure to provide appropriate safety equipment. With regard to employee benefits, employers will need to assess their leave and other policies in light of the paid leave obligations of the Paid Sick Leave Act and the Emergency Family and Medical Leave Extension Act which provides for fully paid or partially paid leave for a variety of circumstances.
- Follow Existing OSHA Standards to Protect Workers from COVID-19 Exposure and Infection. During emergencies like disease outbreaks, State Health inspectors typically respond in a technical support posture, providing compliance and assistance to ensure workers are properly protected. However, State Health officials still retain their authority to enforce OSHA standards. During COVID-19, it’s likely that Vermont State Health inspectors will place greater emphasis on requirements including: Personal Protective Equipment, Bloodborne Pathogens, Hazard Communications, and Recordkeeping. OSHA’s website contains a variety of guidance for workers and employers.
- Engage your legal team to review your contract and determine what provisions may be triggered as a result of COVID-19 Impacts. It’s expected that the pandemic will result in delays, budget constraints, permitting changes, potential price increases caused by rising building costs, lost productivity, and more. While every project is unique, there are certain contract provisions that could share such risks and common law defenses that could excuse a contractor’s inability to perform. It’s critical to engage your legal team to help you navigate the potential landmines associated with COVID-related impacts.
- Review, stay up to date, and incorporate AGC/VT’s Sample Return to Work Plan. Many suggestions that arose during the presentation re-iterated guidance in AGC/VT Exposure Prevention, Preparedness, and Response Sample Plan designed by your AGC/VT team during Governor Phil Scott’s “Stay Home, Stay Safe” executive order. The Plan, which incorporates best practices to keep your workforce safe at the home office and on the jobsite gets updated as new information and guidance gets released. Be sure to watch for updates announced via email and newsletters and check the website regularly for more information.
Want more COVID-19 insight and information? Consider attending our weekly virtual Mid-Week Meet at 12p.m every Wednesday. Contact Matt Musgrave at Matt@agcvt.org for more information and look for electronic notices announcing our upcoming slate of experts.