Across the country, states are beginning to implement scaled timelines for reopening businesses. The timelines vary widely, from the types of businesses allowed to reopen, when they’ll reopen, and even how they’ll reopen. While many businesses are eager to get back to work, it’s important to carefully consider your methods to protect yourself, employees, and customers.

Rollout of phases by state

President Trump’s Stay at Home mandate expired May 1st, leaving states to roll out their own restrictions and guidelines for reopening of businesses and public places. Each state must address new procedures for a variety of situations, including retail businesses, public places, curfews, group gathering limits, social distancing, close contact services, schools, and workplaces.

For example, the state of Utah downgraded from “red” to “orange,” meaning groups of 20 can now gather with social distancing, most businesses (including restaurants) can reopen if safety measures are taken, and all Utahns can be provided free masks.

Tips for reopening your business as COVID-19 restrictions lift

This global pandemic has completely changed our economy and created a long line of dominoes which are still falling. While we may be hurting financially, or just anxious to get back to normal operations, we must minimize the negative effects of COVID-19 on our businesses and employees by carefully considering a wide range of factors. 

Divvy has carefully researched guidelines and potential risks related to reopening businesses that have been closed or minimized due to COVID-19 and we’re sharing the most important things we’ve learned for you to take into your business reopening strategy.

OSHA

It may seem surprising, but currently there are no specific rules from the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) regarding the reopening of businesses after the coronavirus pandemic shut down normal operations. Instead, OSHA has published informative guidelines for businesses, which all small business owners should carefully review. Reopening businesses need to continue to comply with existing OSHA standards as well as staying informed about the various guidelines for their state and for their industry. Regularly check with your state and local government for their recommendations and requirements, as they may continue to change.

Negligence

As employees return to work, we may see legal and insurance claims regarding COVID-19 rise dramatically. Worker’s compensation will likely cover many of the claims (such as contracting COVID-19 at work), but negligence is not covered. This means that your workplace needs to do everything possible to reduce the risk of coronavirus for employees returning to work. It breaks down to three essential components:

Prepare your workplace

Your workplace needs to be carefully prepared for the return of employees, customers, and any other regular business operations. Assess your workplace for cleanliness, ability to social distance, sanitizing stations, and any necessary changes in business operation. Deep cleaning your workplace and providing soap and hand sanitizer is a must, but you might also consider taping off 6 foot markers in lines or from service desks for social distancing and provide your staff protective gear.

Make a plan

It is critical that your business create a plan for monitoring the health and hygiene of employees and customers, as well as ways to complete business operations according to state guidelines. For example, some businesses are turning corridors or store aisles into one-way paths to limit the face-to-face contact between individuals. Will you require face masks? Will a bandana or scarf suffice?

Communicate

Your best-laid plans won’t amount to much unless you are able to communicate clearly and in an ongoing manner with your employees and customers. Once you’ve prepared your workplace and created a plan for mutual health and safety, you must find efficient ways to communicate those measures with everyone. Any combination of email, posted notices, company meetings, or updated agreements can be used to keep employees and customers informed of your new efforts and expectations surrounding the reopening of businesses during COVID-19.

In-office safety

Take some time to think about the safety of employees, customers, suppliers, and any other individuals who may come into your workplace during a normal workday. How can you minimize face-to-face and touch contact? Where are the biggest threats to social distancing located? 

Here are some in-office safety best practices that businesses are implementing: 

  • Mandatory quarantine for traveling or ill workers
  • Staggered work schedules
  • Temperature checks of incoming employees & customers 
  • Requiring face masks
  • Installing or wearing protective screens, shields, or barriers
  • Restricting visitors
  • Education of proper hygiene & etiquette 
  • Increased cleaning & sanitizing 
  • Increase air flow and replacing air filters

Continuing WFH

Many businesses are discovering just how much of their daily operations can be done from home. The CDC and OSHA continue to recommend that “non-essential” employees work remotely. Business owners also need to consider that employees may not feel safe returning to the workplace, despite relaxing restrictions. As you reopen your business, it’s best to provide work-from-home options for as many employees as possible. Encourage those with compromised immunity, employees aged 65+, or employees who live with such individuals to continue working from home to protect their loved ones and others.

Divvy can help you empower your remote employees for greater satisfaction and success.

Employee concerns

To successfully navigate this COVID-19 economic disaster, businesses need to constantly manage employee concerns and expectations. Gather information about the concerns, fears, mental health, and desires of your employees through surveys or interviews to better understand exactly what you can do to make a difference as you reopen your small business. 

Consider the following that may concern your employees:

  • Contracting COVID-9
  • Layoffs
  • Mental health after isolation
  • Coworkers following rules & guidelines
  • Being paid for leave or having to use accumulated time off
  • Working from home challenges such as equipment, kid interruptions, internet, etc. 

Work closely with your human resources and legal departments to brush up on the policies and laws surrounding sick leave, FMLA, Worker’s Compensation, HIPAA, and ADA to be sure you are compliant with all employee requests and pay.

Hiring concerns

Reopening your business will necessitate new hiring policies and procedures. If your workplace is struggling financially, you may already have a hiring freeze in place. If you are continuing to hire, be sure to create a procedure that will protect both you and your prospective employees. Conduct interviews via Zoom or other video conferencing. Consider testing potential hires for COVID-19, and requiring a remote start before in-office work. You can rescind job offers for infected applicants or those unwilling to comply with your workplace procedures regarding coronavirus, but do so carefully. 

The bottom line for hiring during the COVID-19 pandemic is to make all decisions carefully and with consistency. One lawyer advised “The situation is fluid, and none of these decisions have yet been tested in the courts, so employers are advised to tread carefully and make sound decisions driven by the advice of their legal counsel.”

As we all get creative to offset the impacts of COVID-19, we need to be sure we’re reopening thoughtfully for the benefit of everyone. Reopening your business with careful parameters can protect your employees and earn the trust of your customers, so it’s worth the extra time and effort to get it right. Divvy stands with you and we’re ready to help with business resources for COVID-19.

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