If you are like me, about 50% of your conscious life these days can be summed up in one word: corona-virus. President Trump declared a national emergency yesterday. We are urged to engage in “social distancing”, to avoid crowds, wash our hands thoroughly and frequently, and to refrain from touching our face.
What is Michaels & Smolak doing to keep its staff, clients and others safe? Here’s our current policy, which is still evolving to meet new developments:
We are closely following the news and information sources about the virus, about how it spreads and how to stop it, and about what early symptoms are like. We are further gathering information about what to do if anyone in our office or a client or person who has been to our office develops corona-virus symptoms (cough, fever, difficulty breathing).
We have provided our employees with accurate information about ways to prevent the spread of infection and we have implemented the following measures to reduce the risk of workplace transmission: Ensuring that our employees have easy access to hand washing facilities and/or hand sanitizers; ensuring that public surfaces such as counters, table and desk tops, and doorknobs are regularly disinfected; instructing our employees on the importance of frequent hand washing, refraining from touching their face, and good cough/sneeze etiquette.
Changes in work policy and sick leave
Our lawyers are working mostly remotely from home, except when they have to meet clients or conduct depositions in the office or have to appear in court. Employees have been instructed to notify us immediately if they have been exposed to the virus or show symptoms of the infection (cough, fever, difficulty breathing).
Any staff with symptoms of the infection will be sent home and instructed to stay there until they test negative for the virus or, if no testing can be obtained, until the symptoms are gone. Michaels & Smolak will pay their wages and will not count the lost time toward sick leave or vacation days. If they can work from home, so be it. If they are too sick to do so, we understand.
Any employee who has family members at home who fall ill from the virus will also be allowed to work from home and/or simply care for their sick family members, at their discretion. Again, there will be no wage loss to the employee.
Changes in visitor policy
We are encouraging clients and others to engage with us by phone rather than coming to the office as much as possible. We are asking clients and others who have been in contact with us or have been in our office to notify us if they test positive for the virus. Note that while we cannot require them to tell us (because of privacy laws) we are strongly encouraging them to voluntarily do so. If we hear from someone who has been in our office or in contact with us that they have tested positive for the virus, we will consult with local health officials about what steps to take to protect our staff, clients, and others we work with.
All personal information we obtain from clients or others about testing positive will remain protected within our secure data protection system, except to the extent that we are required to report said information to health officials.
Changes in court appearances
The New York Court authorities have already directed judges to minimize physical appearances in court. Any legal proceedings, such as oral arguments, scheduling conferences, settlement conferences, are to be conducted by telephone wherever possible. Jury trials have been suspended until further notice.
Michaels & Smolak cares about your health and our own. We are doing everything possible to minimize the risk this virus poses to our staff, clients, visitors, opponents, and others. Please feel free to make further recommendations. This virus, and the best practices for fighting its spread, is a moving target.