Bill Morris in Building Operations on March 12, 2020
The coronavirus pandemic is forcing co-op and condo boards to navigate uncharted waters. No one has dealt with this kind of challenge before. In an effort to cut through the conflicting information that seems to multiply daily, we’ve put together a list of Frequently Asked Questions and posed them to players in the co-op and condo community.
Are co-op and condo boards allowed to take building staffers’ temperature when they report for work?
“Yes,” says the Service Employees International Union (Local 32BJ). “Based on current community health concerns, the employer is allowed to use a universal, non-invasive screening measure.”
Can an employee refuse to clean a space where someone with a confirmed or suspected case of COVID-19 has been?
“No,” the union says, “but if there is a confirmed case of COVID-19, the employer should provide employees with enhanced personal protective equipment to use while cleaning, plus appropriate cleaning agents. The employer must also train employees how to use and dispose of this special equipment.”
Can an employer ask an employee to stay home or leave work if he or she exhibits symptoms of the COVID-19 coronavirus or the flu?
“Yes,” says the law firm Fisher Phillips, “you are permitted to ask them to seek medical attention and get tested for COVID-19. The Centers for Disease Control states that employees who exhibit symptoms of influenza-like illness at work during a pandemic should leave the workplace.”
What should a board do if an employee tests positive for COVID-19?
“You should send home all employees who worked closely with that employee for a 14-day period to ensure the infection does not spread,” the law firm says. “Before the employee departs, ask him or her to identify all individuals who worked in close proximity (three to six feet) in the previous 14 days to ensure you have a full list of those who should be sent home. You may also want to consider hiring a cleaning company to undertake a deep cleaning of your affected workspaces.”
Can a board require residents to remain in their apartments? Bar visitors or deliveries from the building? Limit social events? Compel the use of a particular elevator? Close down such common areas as a pool, playroom or laundry room?
“We suggest that boards tailor their actions to be consistent with the recommendations of appropriate medical authorities,” writes the law firm Smith, Buss & Jacobs. “For example, boards might require travelers from ‘high-risk’ or even ‘medium risk’ jurisdictions to remain in their homes for 14 days, and that persons showing symptoms (and their family members) be isolated for the same period. Boards might also seek to bar social events, move-ins or move-outs, alterations or any other activity that involves significant incursions by non-residents.”
If a resident refuses to cooperate, what should a board do?
“We do not recommend imposing fines,” the law firm writes. “Instead, we recommend that the board seek a court injunction barring the prohibited behavior, combined with a temporary restraining order because of the immediate threat to other residents. In this way, the board is protected by a court determination as to whether its proposed restrictions are reasonable, rather than being open to accusations that it was being too draconian or too lax.Whatever a board decides to do, it should implement its decision by a formal vote.”
Annual meeting season is approaching. Should co-op and condo boards postpone their meetings?
“We recommend to boards that they postpone their annual meetings to the fall,” says Michael Wolfe, president of Midboro Management. “We’ll still get out their financial statements, and maybe they could put out a newsletter. We have some boards that may hold their annual meeting via teleconference, if the governing documents allow it.”
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