May 20, 2020

COVID-19 in Mexico: The New Normal

Holland & Knight Alert
Leslie Palma

The Mexican Social Security Institute (IMSS), within the framework of occupational risk preventive measures established in Article 80 of the Social Security Law, will advise and assist companies and organizations in the application of workplace health safety guidelines.

To attain this "New Normal," a three-stage process was defined that aims to reactivate socioeconomic activities in Mexico, with the premise of protecting the health and well-being of the Mexican population and controlling the COVID-19 spread, and thereby preventing any large epidemic outbreaks or resurgences in areas of the country that have already suffered from the first epidemic peak. To this end, a health alert system will be implemented by each corresponding state or municipal authority, and will require weekly result reports that will determine the degree of restrictions required for all economic, social and educational activities in Mexico.

Normative Framework

On May 14, 2020, the Mexican Ministry of Health published in the Official Gazette of the Federation an agreement that establishes a strategy for the reactivation of social, educational and economic activities, as well as the establishment of extraordinary actions. On May 15, 2020, a second agreement was published in the Official Gazette of the Federation clarifying the aforementioned agreement.

As of May 18, 2020, companies and factories will have to complete a document called "Health Safety Protocol Self-Assessment" on the corresponding platform.

These companies and factories will provide general identification data on a platform that will establish and urge the compliance of a letter of engagement. In the case of multi-plant companies, each plant must be registered individually.

The IMSS will issue an electronic acknowledgement of receipt once it has received the "Health Safety Self-Assessment" document, and shall provide results within 72 hours. The results may be as follows:

a) approval (services classified as essential shall be allowed to resume activities)

b) information extension request (the IMSS may issue new information or an entirely new Health Security Protocol)

c) dismissal of this Health Safety Protocol (companies and factories will not be able to resume the process), resulting in entities having to start the process all over again

Guidelines

The first stage shall initiate on May 18, 2020, for municipalities of La Esperanza (323) and any surrounding municipalities that have not reported coronavirus infection cases. These municipalities will resume all labor activities.

The second stage shall commence on May 18, 2020, and May 31, 2020, and shall consist of the preparedness for activity reestablishment. In this stage, companies or industries devoted to activities classified as essential that adhere to and accredit such protocols will be able to reestablish activities in accordance with the process established for this purpose. Likewise, all companies and factories will prepare for the implementation process of their protocols for the safe reestablishment of their business activities.

The third stage shall initiate on June 1, 2020, and shall consist of a socioeconomic reestablishment protocol that will require authorities to report a weekly health alert traffic light system per region (state or municipal) that will determine the health alert level and define what type of activities are authorized to be carried out in all economic, labor, educational and social spheres. The traffic light alert levels are maximum, high, medium and low, and will be decreed by the federal authority.

The following control strategies are essential and fundamental to curb the COVID-19 spread, and should be implemented in all workplaces regardless of their business activity, industry type or the specific alert level of the locations of these companies and factories.

What the Protocol Should Contain

Health Promotion

Measures for the orientation, training and organization of employees to prevent and control COVID-19 spread at their homes, and most importantly at social events and during their journeys in the public and private transportation units supplied by the company, include the following:

  • Follow general COVID-19 information, contagion mechanisms, its symptoms and best practices to prevent its spread.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water frequently or use 70 percent alcohol gel solutions.
  • Practice respiratory hygiene, including covering your nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing with a tissue or with the inside angle of your arm.
  • Do not spit. If necessary, use a tissue, and place it in a plastic bag, tie it up and throw it away; afterward, wash your hands.
  • Do not touch your face with dirty hands, especially your nose, mouth and eyes.
  • Clean and disinfect commonly used surfaces and objects in offices, enclosed places, transportation and meeting centers, among others.
  • Maintain a healthy distance (at least 1.5 meters) while being in contact with other people.

The Mexican Government has created informational material in order to facilitate its dissemination at workplaces. This material is available at the Mexican Government and IMSS.

Health Protection Measures (Work Safety and Hygiene)

Healthy Distance

If you happen to have any kind of respiratory disease symptoms, stay home and; maintain a 1.5-meter distance between people who are not wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) and reduce the frequency of face-to-face encounters between coworkers. Guidelines include:

  • 1.1 Avoid overcrowding in spaces and ensure the permanent availability of potable water, soap, toilet paper, alcohol-based gel and disposable hand towels.
  • 1.2 Establish alternate schedules for meals, bathroom breaks and daily activities to reduce contact between people.
  • 1.3 Increase the number of vehicles used for personnel transportation in order to reduce overcrowding and the possibility of infections, while maintaining a healthy distance and a natural ventilation for the transport units.

Entry and Exit Control System

Implementation of an entry and exit control system for employees, customers and suppliers consists of the following:

  1. Establish a screening protocol to identify people with acute respiratory infections.
  2. People who are detected with respiratory disease symptoms and/or body temperature higher than 37.5 degrees Celsius shall be confined to an isolation area, and shall be provided a mask and referred to their home and/or a medical service unit.
  3. Provide 70 percent alcohol-based gel solutions for hand washing and verify the appropriate use of masks and mouth guards.
  4. If possible, place disinfectant mats with sodium hypochlorite concentrations of at least 0.5 percent.
  5. Establish entrances and exits exclusively for personnel, and in case there is only one access point, entrances and exits shall be divided by physical barriers in order to have specific spaces for the secure entrance and exit of personnel.

Measures to Prevent Occupational Outbreaks

Actions that will be carried out to prevent possible infection, i.e., actions implemented by workplaces to prevent access of infected employees to and virus outbreaks in the company and its facilities. These measures shall address hygiene, cleanliness and social distancing issues.

  1. Place dispensers with 70 percent alcohol gel solutions at different workplace locations.
  2. Provide employees with sanitary products and personal protective equipment, including mouth guards, protective glasses and/or masks.
  3. Place sufficient personal disposal bins, ensuring that they are continuously cleaned.
  4. Guarantee that the restrooms have hand washing facilities and adequate conditions so personnel may continuously wash themselves.
  5. Establish a permanent cleaning and maintenance program for workplaces and facilities, including areas and facilities used for food services or rest.
  6. Instruct personnel that they should not share work tools and/or personal items between them.
  7. If possible, urge natural ventilation in common areas or areas and/or work stations with higher personnel population.
  8. Check the operation of the facilities' extraction systems, provide maintenance and change filters for their proper operation.
  9. Ensure common areas have markings on the floor, walls and/or furniture, adhering to the 1.5-meter minimum distance among people.
  10. Establish a control policy for visitors, suppliers and contractors.
  11. Implement a stair-use policy and always maintain a healthy distance, avoiding contact with surfaces like guardrails used for personnel transit inside the work center. In case of elevator use, no more than two people per square meter will be allowed inside the elevator and will be required to wear their personal mouth guards; personnel will have to wait in line (1.5 meters of distance between one another) to make use of these elevators and will have to wash their hands immediately after touching the elevator buttons.

Use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

Personal protective equipment (PPE) to minimize any risk of occupational exposure on behalf of employees to the virus and any infection outbreaks among personnel must be used.

In order to avoid the risk of COVID-19 infection, employers must distribute among employees with public service duties the following sanitary equipment:

  1. mouth guards, along with personnel training on how to properly clean and replace them
  2. face shield or goggles or safety glasses with side, top and bottom eye protection

Conventional PPE must be used as indicated in the current Official Mexican Standards in workplaces where there is exposure to chemical agents. As soon as personnel are not exposed to these chemical agents, mouth guards and safety glasses must be used at all times.

Planning

Companies and factories must be informed and aware of the health alert system, industry type and its characteristics, in order to successfully plan and address these measures. Actions to achieve the correct implementation of sanitary measures at companies and workplaces include:

  1. The Health and Safety Committee urges that companies and work centers assign a committee or person responsible for the prompt and correct implementation, follow-up and supervision of the New Normal measures within the COVID-19 framework.
  2. Entities should identify if the company or work center is allowed to continue performing its regular business activities according to the essential sector list issued by the federal authority, as well as the weekly traffic light system issued per region to evaluate the epidemiological risk.
  3. Companies and factories should identify the proper health alert criteria (red, orange, yellow or green) according to the work center's location.
  4. Actions to be implemented at the work center must be defined and include the following:
  5. • areas and/or departments that constitute the work center

    • personnel with underlying health conditions who are at greater risk of contracting or developing complications from the illness located at each one of the areas or departments of the companies and work centers

     

  6. Entities should remain informed and aware of any instructions issued by the federal authority in order to, if necessary, inform personnel of any new measures that should be implemented.

Information and Training

Actions to inform personnel of safety, hygiene, cleaning and care measures, and in general, of any instructions and decrees issued by the authorities throughout the stages of the New Normal and adjustment period are outlined below.

Information:

  1. Place official infographics in multiple and visible locations at the workplaces and facilities, and disseminate this informative material through any available means.
  2. Inform employees of the activity re-establishment strategy and the New Normal period, as well as the implications that these measures will have at the workplace.
  3. Publicly disclose the health authority's emergency telephone number (911) to employees and train them.
  4. Promote guiding principles among the working population that specifically emphasize the "non-discrimination" of people infected with COVID-19 or those who have lived with a sick relative.

Training:

  1. Train employees on health protection measures.
  2. Train employees on measures to be implemented at workplaces and facilities.
  3. Establish a training program for management personnel and directors on specific actions and measures to prevent and avoid infection outbreaks. Companies and factories may consult COVID-19 related material at the Mexican Government and IMSS.
  4. Prepare and train staff to assume and perform different functions in the event of potential absenteeism, including the use of home office technologies.
  5. Access the toolkit, guide and practical advice to effectively and efficiently carry out home office work.

Infection Prevention Measures at Companies and Factories

Actions that should be implemented if employees are suspected of being infected, or are known to be infected with COVID-19 at the workplace, in order to contain and prevent any further spread of the virus among personnel include the following:

  1. Send home employees with respiratory diseases symptoms. If the employee has difficulties breathing, they should be quickly referred to the nearest healthcare center, and be provided with educational material to prevent infection at home.
  2. Identify employees who have been in contact with infected or potentially infected people, and send them back home.
  3. Insist that sick employees do not return if they have not received proper medical assessment.
  4. Keep records and provide follow-up to employees in voluntary quarantine lockdown, and evaluate any possible infection cases.
  5. Encourage workers with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 infection to comply with quarantine lockdown. This lockdown can also be requested for vulnerable personnel with underlying health conditions. During their quarantine lockdown, personnel should receive her/his salary.

Temporary Policies

Measures should be implemented by work centers throughout the New Normal and adjustment period in order to reduce the risk of infection. These measures will depend on the industry type, the conditions in the municipality or locality where the employees live and work (in accordance with the health alert system) and work center's areas and facilities. These actions also include social distancing measures from common areas, dining rooms, meetings, staggered office hours and protective equipment, among others.

Surveillance and Supervision

Actions to verify the correct implementation of all measures at the companies or the work centers. A committee or person in charge will be assigned these tasks and responsibility.

  1. Verify the establishment of prevention and protection measures at the workplace.
  2. Verify the constant supply of water, soap and disposable towels, and 70 percent alcohol gel solutions at all areas of the companies and work centers.
  3. Continuously monitor provisions established by the competent authorities for any potential modifications to actions to be implemented at workplaces and facilities.
  4. Establish a follow-up mechanism for employees in quarantine and lockdown, and if necessary, contact the state health authority.

Risk Classification for Personnel Exposure

For purposes of COVID-19, these guidelines identify four levels of risk that may depend on the personnel's closeness to infected people, or the level of repeated or extended contact with potential infection sources throughout the course of their activities. In addition, these health guidelines also help identify the working population that is most vulnerable due to their individual health conditions.

  • Very high risk: Employees that are continuously exposed to high concentrations of people known to be or suspected of being infected with COVID-19.
  • High risk: Employees that are frequently exposed to high concentrations of people known to be or suspected of being infected with COVID-19.
  • Medium risk: Employees that are frequently exposed to and in close contact with people that may be potential sources of COVID-19.
  • Low risk: Employees that are not frequently exposed to and in close contact with people that may be potential sources of COVID-19.

A health condition assessment table for personnel is also included that details personnel who, regardless of their occupation at the work center, are at a greater risk of infection and and/or developing complications from the illness. The table outlines the following:

  • Low risk or less likely vulnerable:
    • no history of chronic non-communicable and/or immunosuppressive diseases
    • people under 60 years of age
  • High risk or very vulnerable:
    • people that have chronic diseases: such as heart, lung, kidney, liver, blood, metabolic or immunosuppressive diseases
    • obese and overweight people
    • adults over 60 years of age
    • pregnant women
    • children under the age of 5

Technical Specifications

The measure checklists established in the Health Safety Protocol were developed by companies and factories as a tool to guarantee a safe return to work. These checklists shall help workplaces assess the degree of progress made with these measures and their actions, as well as to correctly implement and evaluate the measures implemented before and during the reestablishment of their business activities. The correct implementation of these measures will be the only way to ensure the successful reestablishment of activities.

Micro and small, medium and large companies must comply with the following:

  • Cleaning measures and access controls must be implemented at the entry and exit areas of the work centers.
  • Necessary cleaning measures should be carried out in common areas such as dining rooms, dressing rooms, lockers, cafeterias, meeting rooms, waiting rooms or reception areas, among others.
  • Administrative office areas should be taken care of and delimited with signs, areas with two or more employees should have physical barriers, and be supplied sufficient materials such as gel, mouth guards and soap.
  • Work stations and areas for manufacturing processes or services must be delimited and defined with washable, fixed, mobile, hanging, physical barriers, or in the case of work stations, these areas must be delimited with signs or markings on the floor ensuring a minimum 1.5-meter distance between employees.
  • Restrooms must be in perfect conditions and have the necessary cleaning supplies.
  • Access and visit control protocols with sanitary screenings, as well as the measurement of body temperature must be carried out at the entrance and exit areas to the work center, respecting a healthy distance.
  • Working from home offices must be granted to employees whose health condition warrants such measure at all workplaces, and meetings must be held via telephone or video conference applications, or in the event of face-to-face meetings, a healthy distance must be maintained.
  • Social events should be limited.
  • Cleaning supplies must be supplied to comply with established protocols.

Holland & Knight attorneys have extensive experience in labor and employment matters in a variety of industries. For more information, contact the authors or Holland & Knight's Mexico City office

DISCLAIMER: Please note that the situation surrounding COVID-19 is evolving and that the subject matter discussed in these publications may change on a daily basis. Please contact your responsible Holland & Knight lawyer or the author of this alert for timely advice.


Information contained in this alert is for the general education and knowledge of our readers. It is not designed to be, and should not be used as, the sole source of information when analyzing and resolving a legal problem. Moreover, the laws of each jurisdiction are different and are constantly changing. If you have specific questions regarding a particular fact situation, we urge you to consult competent legal counsel.


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