It’s obvious that this would be a pretty bad time to be in the commercial real estate industry. Right now, over 14 percent of Americans are unemployed. That’s more than 30 million people. Big name brands have been filing for bankruptcy on a daily basis, so far including J.Crew, Pier 1, Avianca, Neiman Marcus, True Religion and Virgin Australia, among others. Over the past few months, 62 percent of employed Americans have been working from home and three out of five surveyed said they would prefer to continue working from home. So the question has been circling: when and why would we ever return to working at a physical office?
Since the federal government hasn’t laid out any clear or consistent reopening guidelines, it has been left up to states and individual companies to come up with plans for reopening, including their own protocols for testing, tracing and enforcing social distancing. While some companies, like Twitter, have announced that they will allow employees to work remotely forever, other companies have taken the opposite approach. Some of the energy companies based in Houston, for example, are requiring many of their employees there to report back into their offices before the end of May.
With such a disparity of clear information or guidelines, this leaves many companies potentially liable for the health of their employees, and in some cases it may even be illegal to force employees to come to work during a pandemic. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) exists precisely for the purpose of protecting workers from unsafe working conditions, and the federal OSHA rules are supposed to take priority over state laws. The lack of clarity in messaging and protocols from a federal level is making everything even messier and more convoluted.