States are reopening – find out which ones here. As they do, organizations will begin and/or continue adhering to a complex set of distancing, screening, capacity, sanitization, mask, posting, reporting, and other guidelines designed to maintain COVID19 curve flattening efforts. For organizations with operations in multiple states, the patchwork of federal, state, and local “guidelines” becomes even more complex. For organizations that tackle these guidelines, their job still may not be complete.

The risk of COVID19 infection in areas such as on a salesfloor, in common areas of an apartment complex, on a loading dock, or in an office environment is not limited to the members of an organization’s workforce or its customers or clients. Virtually all organizations rely on third-party service providers or vendors, directly or indirectly, to operate efficiently, including those providers and vendors. In a retail business, service providers or vendors might include delivery companies, manufacturer representatives, temporary staffing companies, and IT support services. Senior living communities might have similar service providers or vendors as retail businesses, along with landscape companies, building maintenance technicians, and equipment suppliers. The same is true for professional service providers, whose service providers or vendors also could include office equipment maintenance providers, window and office cleaners, food service providers, and transportation vendors.

As organizations develop policies and devise procedures to address COVID19 in their facilities, they should be taking their third-party service providers or vendors into account, especially when the workforce members of those entities will need to interact with the organizations’ employees, customers, clients, etc. How to do so presents some difficult questions and additional challenges. Some organizations may want to (or be required to) play a more active role, such as screening a vendor’s employees before being permitted to enter the organization’s facilities. Others might prefer to rely on the vendor’s compliance efforts. Either way, these decisions raise critical health, liability, insurance, public relations, operational, and business issues.

Depending on how organizations decide to approach the risks posed by third-party service providers or vendors, below is a checklist of items an organization might want to cover with respect to each of those entities.

  • Modifying the delivery of products and/or services to minimize COVID19 risk.
  • Compliance with all applicable federal, state, and local COVID19 guidelines, including those specific to the organization which may not be applicable to the service provider or vendor, and including changes to those guidelines and best practices as the pandemic continues to evolve.
  • Allocating responsibility for COVID19-related issues, such as reporting, exposures, liabilities, etc. For example, organizations may want to confirm whether they or their service providers are responsible to provide personal protective equipment (PPE) in the organizations’ facilities. Organizations also may want to reevaluate insurance coverage requirements, indemnification provisions, and limitation of liability clauses to ensure they align with a changing risk landscape due to the pandemic.
  • Ensuring service provider and vendor workforce members are aware and trained on the organization’s applicable COVID19 policies and procedures including without limitation social distancing, sanitization, screening, cleaning supplies, contact tracing, and other measures.
  • Administering screening/testing for all vendor or service provider workforce members prior to entering the organization’s facilities, and who is responsible for carrying it out.
  • Arranging for communication and reporting of COVID19 symptoms, or infections or likely infections in order to carry out contact tracing. As contact tracing efforts expand, many organizations are considering different approaches such as contact tracing apps. Depending on the circumstances, having service providers use the same contact tracing app could enhance the organization’s efforts.
  • Pushing service provider and vendor’s obligation downstream to their agents, subcontractors, and third-party service providers where applicable.
  • Ensuring cooperation and consistent communications in the event of any investigation concerning COVID19 infection believed to be at the organization’s facilities.
  • Maintaining a process to assess compliance and appropriate record keeping. Some organizations may want to be able to review a service provider or vendor’s record keeping to show they have been complying with applicable COVID-19 guidelines.
  • Confirming that service providers and vendors have hardened their privacy and cybersecurity protections as ransomware, business email compromise, and other attacks are on the rise with COVID-19 and could result in business interruption. Much of this post relates to increased physical interaction as organizations reopen. However, significant segments of the workforce will continue to work from home, including service providers and vendors, extending these heightened risks.

A “compliance with all applicable laws” or related clauses in the service provider or vendor’s master services agreement (MSA) likely will not be sufficient to address many, if not all, of these issues. COVID19 implications are far reaching, affecting the provision of services, service level agreements, costs, liabilities, etc. Organizations and their service providers and vendors may need to rethink certain provisions of their MSAs to address the new reality of how products and services are provided and performed during the coronavirus pandemic, including amendments that outline specific COVID19-related operational issues, practices, etc.

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Photo of Joseph J. Lazzarotti Joseph J. Lazzarotti

Joseph J. Lazzarotti is a principal in the Berkeley Heights, New Jersey, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He founded and currently co-leads the firm’s Privacy, Data and Cybersecurity practice group, edits the firm’s Privacy Blog, and is a Certified Information Privacy Professional (CIPP)…

Joseph J. Lazzarotti is a principal in the Berkeley Heights, New Jersey, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He founded and currently co-leads the firm’s Privacy, Data and Cybersecurity practice group, edits the firm’s Privacy Blog, and is a Certified Information Privacy Professional (CIPP) with the International Association of Privacy Professionals. Trained as an employee benefits lawyer, focused on compliance, Joe also is a member of the firm’s Employee Benefits practice group.

In short, his practice focuses on the matrix of laws governing the privacy, security, and management of data, as well as the impact and regulation of social media. He also counsels companies on compliance, fiduciary, taxation, and administrative matters with respect to employee benefit plans.

Privacy and cybersecurity experience – Joe counsels multinational, national and regional companies in all industries on the broad array of laws, regulations, best practices, and preventive safeguards. The following are examples of areas of focus in his practice:

  • Advising health care providers, business associates, and group health plan sponsors concerning HIPAA/HITECH compliance, including risk assessments, policies and procedures, incident response plan development, vendor assessment and management programs, and training.
  • Coached hundreds of companies through the investigation, remediation, notification, and overall response to data breaches of all kinds – PHI, PII, payment card, etc.
  • Helping organizations address questions about the application, implementation, and overall compliance with European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and, in particular, its implications in the U.S., together with preparing for the California Consumer Privacy Act.
  • Working with organizations to develop and implement video, audio, and data-driven monitoring and surveillance programs. For instance, in the transportation and related industries, Joe has worked with numerous clients on fleet management programs involving the use of telematics, dash-cams, event data recorders (EDR), and related technologies. He also has advised many clients in the use of biometrics including with regard to consent, data security, and retention issues under BIPA and other laws.
  • Assisting clients with growing state data security mandates to safeguard personal information, including steering clients through detailed risk assessments and converting those assessments into practical “best practice” risk management solutions, including written information security programs (WISPs). Related work includes compliance advice concerning FTC Act, Regulation S-P, GLBA, and New York Reg. 500.
  • Advising clients about best practices for electronic communications, including in social media, as well as when communicating under a “bring your own device” (BYOD) or “company owned personally enabled device” (COPE) environment.
  • Conducting various levels of privacy and data security training for executives and employees
  • Supports organizations through mergers, acquisitions, and reorganizations with regard to the handling of employee and customer data, and the safeguarding of that data during the transaction.
  • Representing organizations in matters involving inquiries into privacy and data security compliance before federal and state agencies including the HHS Office of Civil Rights, Federal Trade Commission, and various state Attorneys General.

Benefits counseling experience – Joe’s work in the benefits counseling area covers many areas of employee benefits law. Below are some examples of that work:

  • As part of the Firm’s Health Care Reform Team, he advises employers and plan sponsors regarding the establishment, administration and operation of fully insured and self-funded health and welfare plans to comply with ERISA, IRC, ACA/PPACA, HIPAA, COBRA, ADA, GINA, and other related laws.
  • Guiding clients through the selection of plan service providers, along with negotiating service agreements with vendors to address plan compliance and operations, while leveraging data security experience to ensure plan data is safeguarded.
  • Counsels plan sponsors on day-to-day compliance and administrative issues affecting plans.
  • Assists in the design and drafting of benefit plan documents, including severance and fringe benefit plans.
  • Advises plan sponsors concerning employee benefit plan operation, administration and correcting errors in operation.

Joe speaks and writes regularly on current employee benefits and data privacy and cybersecurity topics and his work has been published in leading business and legal journals and media outlets, such as The Washington Post, Inside Counsel, Bloomberg, The National Law Journal, Financial Times, Business Insurance, HR Magazine and NPR, as well as the ABA Journal, The American Lawyer, Law360, Bender’s Labor and Employment Bulletin, the Australian Privacy Law Bulletin and the Privacy, and Data Security Law Journal.

Joe served as a judicial law clerk for the Honorable Laura Denvir Stith on the Missouri Court of Appeals.