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D.C. Workers Return to the Office With New Health Guidelines

July 8, 2020 | by Melissa Landon
Reviewed by real estate expert Jonathan Wasserstrum

In the first week of April amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Washington, D.C., had an office occupancy rate of only 14%, according to Kastle Systems. D.C. residents and workers were under some of the nation’s strictest coronavirus-related guidelines, with a stay-at-home order effective until June 10. Washington, D.C., entered “Phase Two” of its reopening plan on June 22, 2020, and some employees have been returning to the office, albeit slowly and with extra health precautions.

Some D.C. Employees Return to the Office for Phase Two…and Some Don’t

When D.C. hit Phase One on June 1, the Agriculture Department (USDA) brought back employees who could not telework, those charged with the task of preparing facilities to reopen, and those with customer-facing duties, like support and security. Phase Two allowed the return of administrators, chief operating officers, and senior program managers, among other employees.

The USDA’s reopening summary stated that “the department will provide cloth face coverings to all National Capital Region (NCR) employees until USDA reaches its 100 percent reopening status. The face coverings will be available at each facility’s open entrances and can be washed up to 15 times.”

During Phase Two, the D.C. government is still recommending that employees work remotely when possible, but the USDA isn’t the only entity bringing workers back to the office. For example, the State Department began bringing a portion of employees back to the office, while still encouraging some of them to work remotely. The Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB), however, required employees to work from home beginning on March 16, and they haven’t returned to the office. In fact, they’ll continue working remotely until at least July 3.

Tristan Leavitt, the MSPB general counsel, explained that during the extra weeks working remotely, employees participated in brainstorming sessions then provided feedback regarding what they thought was more important to consider before reopening. More than half of MSPB’s employees worked remotely once per week even before the pandemic, which made the transition to 100% telework much easier, Leavitt said.

If you’re looking for office space in the DC area, be sure to check out the listings available here:

Phase Two Office Reopening Guidelines in D.C.

The Government of the District of Columbia has provided specific guidance for office buildings opening during Phase Two. Here are a few of the main strategies for businesses:

  • Create a safety plan: To begin, businesses in Washington D.C. should create a workplace health and safety plan that meets the demands of the Centers for Disease Control guidelines.
  • Update office space to allow social distancing: Businesses in D.C. should rearrange desks, furniture, and meeting tables to allow for social distancing—that is, to allow employees to stay 6 feet away from others as much as possible. View available Washington DC office space.
  • Screen employees daily: Employers should screen employees every day either on the phone or in person before they step into the office building.
  • Provide masks: D.C. employers should provide masks for employees to wear, as well as instructions regarding how to properly use them. Employers are allowed to refuse entry to personnel who are not wearing masks, unless those personnel have a medical reason not to wear one.
  • Optimize building ventilation: Check all ventilation systems before employees return. Help the air circulate more freely throughout the building by keeping windows and doors open as much as possible, as well as by using fans.
  • Consider letting employees work in shifts: Rather than having all employees in the office at the same time, think about scheduling them to come in for alternating shifts so that fewer people occupy the space at one time.
  • Decide on a procedure in case someone becomes exposed to COVID-19: Decide whom employees should contact if they test positive for COVID-19. Any employee who tests positive should leave the office immediately, inform a supervisor, and self-isolate.

See the rest of the reopening guidelines for offices in D.C.

Currently, no start date has been issued for Phase Three in D.C. “We have to have confidence that we could be ready for a spike in cases,” D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said.

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