NAMA's Government Affairs team has been working to support the convenience services industry on communicating with the governor of New York to clarify guidance around reopening workplace break rooms. On May 28, 2020, Governor Cuomo released “Interim Guidance for Office-Based Work During the Covid-19 Public Health Emergency.” While this reopening guidance incorporates NAMA's suggestions on safely reopening break rooms, it also creates uncertainty.
NAMA has contacted the governor and the New York State Department of Health to clarify the guidance and urge the safe use of convenience services in employee break rooms. NAMA has collaborated with the National Coffee Association and the Society for Hospitality and Foodservice Management (SHFM), netting 500 letters to the governor. Mike Goscinski, NAMA's Director, Federal and State Affairs, shares an update on this critical issue.
Q: Please explain what’s happening in New York.
A: On Friday, Governor Cuomo released “Interim Guidance for Office-Based Work During the Covid-19 Public Health Emergency.” Unfortunately, while the governor’s reopening guidance incorporates NAMA’s suggested language on safe break room reopening, they create uncertainty for our industry by including, “Responsible Parties should close non-essential amenities and communal areas which promote gathering or are high-touch (e.g. vending machines, communal coffee machines)."
Q: Why is this important to the industry?
A: The convenience services industry was deemed essential by Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency (CISA) during the COVID-19 public health emergency, and has worked vigorously to keep break rooms stocked with necessary nourishment for the front line heroes in hospitals, 911 dispatch centers, police stations, fire houses, truck stops, rest areas, and food production facilities throughout your state. Our members have ensured the safety and wellbeing of these workers while providing round-the-clock service of essential snack, food, beverages and other nourishment throughout the pandemic. As we enter a new stage of recovery, we seek to continue that same essential service to all workers and workplaces.
However, NY’s guidance stating, “Responsible Parties should close non-essential amenities and communal areas which promote gathering or are high-touch (e.g. vending machines, communal coffee machines),” is inconsistent with the DHS guidance and may be misinterpreted by management in workplace locations to discontinue use of such services, leaving the most essential workers without access to the safe, contact-less distribution of food and beverages.
Additionally, this language contradicts the following two bullet points also contained in the interim guidance stating: “Responsible Parties must put in place practices for adequate social distancing in small areas, such as restrooms and breakrooms, and should develop signage and systems (e.g. flagging when occupied) to restrict occupancy when social distancing cannot be maintained in such areas,” and that “Responsible Parties should stagger schedules for employees to observe social distancing for any gathering (e.g. coffee breaks, meals, and shift starts/stops).” Break rooms promote social distancing requirements. On-site vending machines, micro markets, office coffee/tea/water services, and pantry services in employee break rooms offer a safe and effective way to purchase lunches, snacks, and beverages in a controlled manner. By eliminating the need for employees to travel off-site, they reduce additional interpersonal contact with an outside environment. This decreases the risk of exposure for employees and their colleagues and the likelihood of transmitting the virus to others.
Q: How can the industry help?
A: SHARE THEIR VOICE – Individuals residing in New York can click here and take action. Tell Governor Cuomo and NY State Elected Officials that on-site vending machines, micro markets, office coffee/tea/water services, and pantry services in employee break rooms offer a safe and effective way to purchase lunches, snacks, and beverages in a controlled manner while promoting social distancing!
NAMA has already reached out to the governor and the New York State Department of Health to clarify these inconsistencies and urge the safe use of convenience services in employee break rooms and sent a letter late Friday afternoon urging clarification.