Mirick O'Connell COVID-19 Legal Updates
Trusts and Estates | Employment Law
Massachusetts Legislature Passes Remote Notarization Bill

In a highly anticipated move, the Massachusetts Legislature passed a bill allowing for remote notarization of important legal documents. This bill is now on Governor Baker’s desk waiting for his signature. The bill will temporarily allow notaries and document signers to conduct important legal transactions via video conferences.
This is critical for those wishing to execute estate planning documents. Now notaries, document signers, and witnesses can all come together via a video conference to execute documents. To be valid, the notary, the document signer, and any witnesses must all be physically present in Massachusetts at the time of the signing. The notary must observe each person signing the documents. Anyone signing documents must give the notary satisfactory identification, and the notary must keep copies of the identification for 10 years. After the documents have been signed, they must be sent to the notary via delivery service or courier. The notary must also complete a detailed affidavit regarding the execution and requirements, which must be kept for 10 years.
Notably, any transactions involving mortgages or real estate sales require a second videoconference once the notary receives the documents. In the second videoconference, each signer and witness must verify to the notary that the documents before the notary are the same ones executed during the first videoconference.
The bill will be automatically repealed three business days after Governor Baker declares the end of the COVID-19 state of emergency.
Once the bill is signed by the Governor, video document signings can begin immediately, which will enable us to provide you with a much needed way to execute your documents without leaving your home.

Trusts and Estates Group
Trusts and Estates Group
Recommendations to Ensure Workplace Safety in Light of the
COVID-19 Pandemic for Non-Healthcare Employers

Employers are understandably struggling with how best to protect their employees and their workplaces from the spread of the Coronavirus. The amount of information published related to the pandemic and how to combat it can be overwhelming. This client alert is intended to provide practical advice to employers (non-healthcare employers) who want to take steps to not only safeguard their workplace, but minimize the risk of liability in the event of an employee claiming he or she contracted the virus at work. Recommendations set forth below – consistent with guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”) – are divided between “critical infrastructure” and “non-critical infrastructure” employers. 

Critical Infrastructure Employers

To keep the critical workforce working and avoid an employee shortage in critical infrastructure sectors, the CDC recently issued “ Interim Guidance for Implementing Safety Practices for Critical Infrastructure Workers Who May Have Had Exposure to a Person with Suspected or Confirmed COVID-19 .” The guidance applies to critical infrastructure (i.e., essential services) workers in non-healthcare settings in 16 different sectors, including, but not limited to, law enforcement personnel, 911 call center employees, hazardous material responders, janitorial and other custodial staff, and workers in food and agriculture, critical manufacturing, informational technology, transportation, and energy and government facilities. 

Before the interim guidance was issued, critical infrastructure workers who had been exposed, or may have been exposed to a person with suspected or confirmed COVID-19, were sent home and not allowed to return to work for up to 14 days. Under the interim guidance, critical services workers may now be allowed to continue working following potential exposure if they continue to exhibit no symptoms and additional precautions are taken by the employer and the affected employees to protect themselves and others in the workplace. 

For purposes of the interim guidance, “potential exposure” means having contact with, or being within six feet of, a household member or other individual with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 within 48 hours before the household member or individual becomes symptomatic.

The following precautions and practices should be followed by the employee and the employer to allow a critical infrastructure worker to remain at work following a potential exposure: 

  • Pre-Screen: Employers should take the employee’s temperature and assess symptoms prior to the employee starting work, ideally before the individual enters the facility. If the process of taking employee temperatures causes a delay in being able to commence work, the employees subject to the delay should receive wage payment for the period of delay. In addition, employers must ensure confidentiality of any recording of temperatures.

  • Clean and Disinfect Work Spaces: Employers should increase the frequency with which they clean and disinfect all work areas such as offices, bathrooms, common areas, and shared electronic equipment. (Click here for a current list of products that meet the EPA’s criteria for use against COVID‑19). 

  • Regular Monitoring: As long as the employee does not have a temperature or other symptoms known to be associated with COVID-19, the employee should self-monitor under the supervision of his/her employer’s occupational health program or human resources if the employer does not have an established occupational health program.

  • Wear a Mask: The employee should wear a face mask at all times while in the workplace for 14 days after last exposure (or potential exposure). Employers can issue facemasks or can approve employees’ supplied cloth face coverings in the event of shortages. 

  • Social Distance: The employee should maintain a distance of at least six feet from co‑workers and practice other social distancing, as work duties permit in the workplace. Such social distancing in the workplace should be enforced by the employer

What happens if the employee becomes sick ?

If the employee becomes sick during the work day, the employee should be sent home immediately and any surfaces in the employee’s workspace should be cleaned and disinfected. 

Before the employee leaves, the employer should gather information on any persons who may have had close contact with the ill employee (within six feet) during the time the employee had symptoms and two days prior to exhibiting symptoms. Others at the facility who had close contact with the employee during this time would be considered to have been exposed, and should be notified so that the employer can do additional monitoring and take further precautions.

Additional Considerations

The CDC recommends that employers of critical infrastructure workers also consider the following actions to maintain workplace safety during the COVID-19 pandemic:

  • Stagger employee breaks, if possible, and instruct employees to maintain physical distancing during breaks and in the breakroom.

  • Remind employees to not share food or utensils, or headsets or other objects that are near the mouth or nose. 

  • Employers and employees should consider testing face masks to make sure they do not interfere with work assignments. 

  • Employers should work with maintenance staff to increase air exchange in the facility, if possible.

Non-critical Infrastructure Employers

For non-critical infrastructure workers, the CDC’s “Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers to Plan and Respond to Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) ,” updated April 4, 2020, provides recommended strategies for employers to protect their workforce from COVID-19, while ensuring continuity of operations. Such strategies include the following:

  • Knowing the signs and symptoms of COVID-19 and what to do if staff become symptomatic at the worksite (immediately separate sick employee(s) from other employees and send them home).

  • Actively encourage sick employees to stay home and follow the CDC’s return-to-work protocols: 

  • Without Test. Employees with COVID-19 who have isolated at home and will not have a test to determine if they are still contagious may discontinue home isolation after at least 72 hours have passed since recovery (i.e., resolution of fever without use of fever reducing medications) and improvement in respiratory symptoms (e.g., cough, shortness of breath) and at least seven days have passed since symptoms first appeared.

  • With Test. Employees with COVID-19 who have isolated at home and will have a test to determine if they are still contagious may discontinue home isolation after they no longer have a fever (without the use of medicine that reduces fevers) and other symptoms have improved (cough or shortness of breath) and have received two negative tests in a row, 24 hours apart.

  • Asymptomatic. Employees with laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 who have not had any symptoms may discontinue home isolation when at least 7 days have passed since the date of their first positive COVID-19 diagnostic test and have had no subsequent illness provided they remain asymptomatic. For three days following discontinuation of isolation, these persons should continue to limit contact (stay six feet away from others) and wear a mask.

  • Encourage handwashing and avoid touching eyes, mouth and nose with unwashed hands.

  • Encourage respiratory etiquette (i.e., cough into a tissue or inner elbow) and wash hands immediately afterwards.

  • Ensure that soap and water and other hygiene supplies are readily available and in multiple locations in the workplace, including alcohol-based hand rubs and tissues with no-touch disposal receptacles.

  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces daily (workstations, countertops, doorknobs, etc.). Provide disposable wipes so that commonly used surfaces can be wiped down by employees before each use.

  • Encourage telework when feasible.

  • Implement social distancing measures (i.e., increasing physical space between workers, staggering work schedules, replacing in-person meetings with virtual ones, etc.).

  • Consider regular health checks (e.g., temperature screening of staff and visitors entering premises).

  • Cancel (or limit) non-essential work travel.

  • Cancel work-sponsored conferences and tradeshows.

The CDC also recommends that employers develop and implement an Infectious Disease Outbreak Response Plan, which should include, but not be limited to, identifying possible work-related exposure and health risks to employees, a plan for minimizing such exposure and risks, and a process for communicating information to employees and business partners about the employer’s infectious disease outbreak response plan and latest COVID-19 information. 

In addition to the recommendations set forth by the CDC, employers in Massachusetts should also be mindful of Governor Baker’s guidance in which he advised that all individuals in public places wear a protective mask if they are unable to ensure proper social distancing. That same guidance should apply to the workplace. Essentially, employers are well advised to require the use of masks in all common areas of the workplace or when employees are likely to come into contact with fellow employees such that proper social distancing cannot be maintained. 

Following the above recommendations will bolster an employer’s defenses if faced with an employee suit alleging a failure to maintain a safe workplace or if facing an investigation by OSHA related to maintaining a safe workplace.

Please contact Mirick O’Connell’s Labor, Employment and Employee Benefits Group if you need help preparing a response plan, or if you have questions about any other employment issues your company may have as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

For additional information about prevention and mitigation measures, the CDC recommends visiting OSHA’s COVID-19 website .

Labor and Employment Law Group
Labor and Employment Law Group
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