Many states’ stay-at-home orders that are/were designed to mitigate the spread of the COVID-19 virus are now lapsing all over the U.S. As a result, business owners are re-opening their doors to a great deal of uncertainty. We have put together this guide to help the business owner understand that, even though you’ve finally been given the go-ahead, you have a responsibility to keep your staff and customers safe.
The COVID-19 pandemic is the first time many of us have had to deal with this level of threat, and now that businesses start to re-open in an attempt to stagnate a recessionary dive in the economy, there is a lot of ground to cover. Today, we go through the considerations you need to make, and the actions you need to take, to keep your business clear of COVID-19, and what steps to take if the virus makes its way into your business.
While stay-at-home orders may be lifted, there are many other regulatory bodies and authorities that will put forth various restrictions for the sake of public health. Whether imposed by federal, state, or local governments, or tailored to a particular industry that has specific requirements for their operations, it is critical that these directives are followed to the letter.
In the current situation, this becomes especially important in terms of the standards assigned by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Protection (CDC). Make sure you take the time to check for additional requirements applicable to your business’ industry, in addition to what applies to all businesses.
Many workplaces may consider testing for COVID-19 before allowing access to a business’ premises by anyone, which itself will require a few decisions to be made (how these tests are administered, who administers them, and the type of test to be used) and for these results to be protected as medical information.
The Americans with Disabilities Act and other assorted state laws also outline that these tests are only permitted if there is doubt that an employee can perform their job without posing a threat to themselves or their coworkers. While this standard was deemed to have been met by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, any updates could potentially change whether or not this screening is allowed. Check with your legal counsel before proceeding with these protocols.
From your workplace to the employees to work there, you need to do everything you can to encourage a cleaner and healthier environment. Provide a few reminders pertaining to basic hygiene practices around the workplace, and make sure that it is cleaned and disinfected properly. Keeping the HVAC systems well-maintained and the office well ventilated also helps.
Of course, we can’t discuss mitigating COVID-19 without bringing up social distancing. While many businesses are notorious for their close-quarter layouts, shared resources, and even their displays of etiquette, these need to be adjusted to maintain the recommended six feet (or more) of distance between people. Stagger shifts and enable telework, put up barriers and mark off boundaries, and discourage in-person meetings.
It will also be necessary for you to put new rules and procedures in place to better ensure that your workplace is contributing as little risk as possible for your employees. This means that you will need to assign someone the responsibility of overseeing that all workplace processes are compliant with safety regulations. You will also need to be prepared to provide as many protections as possible for your employees, handle your staff and their potential absences in accordance with the law, and (as we’ll cover below) properly deal with an employee who becomes symptomatic.
Opening your business up in the time of a pandemic--especially one that has killed over 80,000+ of your countrymen--is unfortunately the situation many business owners are currently dealing with. It is important, then, to understand the threat that you, your staff, and your customers are under from COVID-19.
The first thing you should understand is that there is going to be a wide disparity of opinion amongst your employees. You will see people who are happy to be back to work and you will see people who resent you for re-opening your business before a vaccine has been found, and every option in between. Depending on the makeup of your staff, there will likely be some heated political debates that surround these opinions. Regardless of how outspoken your employees are, you need to be the person to take the action necessary so that the more anxious members of your workforce can do their jobs effectively.
One of the best things you can do for workers returning to work after a layoff is to be prepared. Having masks, gloves, disinfectant soap, sanitizer, will ease fears, but as was mentioned earlier, you will need to have a policy dedicated to cleaning and sanitizing every surface you can. This type of effort has shown to mitigate COVID-19 transference as many alcohol-based products kill the virus before it can be transferred.
COVID-19 does not have a vaccine, so it’s important that testing take place. A major problem is that testing hasn’t been made available, so if you have employees who can (and have been) doing their jobs from home, you will want to keep them home. If employees cannot do their jobs from home, as is true in many manufacturing and retail establishments, it is essential that the employees you bring back all have clean bills of health. The last thing you will need is a positive COVID-19 case shuttering the doors of your business.
Additionally, there are still options for employers if they do have staff members who have been exposed to the COVID-19 virus in some way. Many businesses have been taking their employees’ temperatures as they come in to work to ensure that they aren’t running a fever, which of course is one of the telltale symptoms of COVID-19. Employers can dictate when their staff comes back to work, but in many states, there are regulations in place to protect workers. Your decisions should be neutral and not based on age, race, pregnancy, or any other identifier. You will want to send “rehire” letters that provide wage notices and outline the onboarding process.
If one of your employees starts to present symptoms, you cannot panic, but they must be separated from the other employees. You will want to send them home and direct them to speak with a doctor so they can get tested. You will then need to notify the rest of your staff that they may have been exposed. You will want to try and protect the identity of the symptomatic employee if possible, but more importantly, you will want to ensure that there is transparency if someone does end up sick.
You must remember that many employees are entitled to leave under federal, state, and local rules put in place for all situations related to COVID-19. Under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, many people who have been exposed to COVID-19 or have other responsibilities that don’t allow them to get back to work, are eligible for paid sick leave.
Finally, the hardest part of returning to work after the stay-at-home orders is that a lot of people are still extremely concerned about contracting the COVID-19 virus and will shelter-in-place much longer, or even until there is a working vaccine. That could be over a year away. Business owners need to be ready for a lack of consumer demand, especially in retail situations. While there are borrowing opportunities to help many small businesses get through these extremely lean times, recession will be a big problem for small business owners.
If you haven’t already, you will want to start looking at options to reduce your business’ spending. You should likely cancel any big projects you had in the pipeline and cut costs anyway you can. It’s unfortunate, but if you want to get your business through COVID-19 and through the resulting recession, you are definitely going to be asked to make some tough decisions.
This is where i-medIT can help. We can provide you with many cost-effective options that can work to maintain productivity, prioritize security, and cut costs by outsourcing parts of your business. If you would like to learn more about how we can help you see your company through this extremely tough situation, call us today at 630-549-6199.