The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) vide order dated May 30, 2020 had issued guidelines for phased re-opening of areas outside the containment zones. The details of the same may be accessed here. Pursuant to these guidelines, the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare (MoHFW) has further issued Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) dated June 4, 2020 for workplaces, shopping malls, religious places, restaurants and hotels & other hospitality units to contain the spread of COVID-19.
Set out below is a summary of the key preventive and response measures prescribed under the SOP for workplaces since our previous update pertaining to resumption of operations by organizations/industries. We have also set out below the development in the matter of the petitions pending before the Supreme Court challenging the order of the government requiring employers to pay 100% wages during the lockdown period:
A. STANDARD OPERATING PROCEDURE FOR WORKPLACE
1. Generic preventive measures:
In addition to the general preventive measures that were highlighted in our previous update (please refer to Point A of the update), following public health measures are also required to be observed by employees and visitors at all times:
(a) Physical distance required to be maintained has been increased from 1 meter (i.e. 3 feet 3.37 inches) to at least 6 feet ;
(b) Mandatory prohibition on spitting; and
(c) Employers to ensure on a best effort basis that employees install and use the Aarogya Setu application.
2. Measures specific to office spaces:
The specific preventives measures prescribed under the workplaces SOP are similar to those listed in our previous update (please refer to Point B of the update). Certain additional preventive measures prescribed under the said SOP which are required to be strictly adhered to by offices inter alia include:
(a) Mandatory hand hygiene (sanitizer dispenser) and thermal screening at entrance;
(b) Only asymptomatic staff/visitors wearing face mask/ cover to be allowed to enter the workplace;
(c) Officers and staff residing in containment zone to continue to work from home until the containment zone is de-notified. The same will not be counted as leave period;
(d) Social distancing norms to be complied with even in the parking lots, elevators, canteens, kitchen, outside office premises, etc.;
(e) Drivers to maintain social distancing and follow the required dos and don’ts related to COVID-19. Service providers/ officers/ staff using drivers to ensure that drivers residing in containment zones are not engaged to drive vehicles;
(f) Provisions to be made for disinfection of the interior of the vehicles;
(g) Extra precautions to be taken in respect of the high risk cases such as employees above 65 years of age, employees with underlying medical conditions, pregnant women etc. Work from home to be permitted to the extent possible;
(h) Posters/standees/AV media on preventive measures about COVID-19 to be displayed prominently;
(i) Provide regular supply of hand sanitisers, soap and running water in the washrooms;
(j) Ensure proper disposal of face covers / masks / gloves left over by visitors and/or employees;
(k) For air-conditioning/ventilation, the guidelines issued by Central Public Works Department to be followed.
3. Measures to be taken on occurrence of case(s):
The measures that are required to be taken in the event when one or more person(s) sharing a room/close office space is/are found to be suffering from the symptoms suggestive of COVID-19 or in case of large numbers of contacts from a pre-symptomatic/asymptomatic case, are same as set out in Point C of our previous update.
4. Closure of workplaces:
The measures required to be followed by a workplace (a) in case 1 or few persons sharing a room/closed office space is/are found to be suffering from COVID-19 related symptoms; or (b) in case of large numbers of contacts from a pre-symptomatic/asymptomatic case are the same as set out our previous update at Point D.
5. Disinfection procedures in office:
B. EMPLOYER OBLIGATIONS TO PAY WAGES DURING THE LOCKDOWN
After allowing the Central Government to file its response on the petitions challenging its order of March 29, 2020 (MHA Notification) and advisory of March 20, 2020, on payment of wages to workers during the COVID-19 lockdown, the Supreme Court heard the arguments in the matter on June 4, 2020. The Bench raised concerns regarding (a) the viability of the directions issued by the Government requiring employers to pay 100% wages when industries and establishments were forced to shutdown as a consequence of the Covid19 pandemic; as well as (b) questioned the authority of the Central Government to prosecute employers failing to do so. The Court has reserved its order on the validity of the MHA Notification for June 12, 2020 and stated that in the meantime, the interim order of May 15, 2020 directing that no coercive action should be taken against the employers for failing to pay wages as required under the MHA Notification, will continue.