As different areas begin to relax stay-at-home orders, there is a lot to consider before fully re-opening your business, both in terms of the customer experience and with regard to employee and customer safety.
In addition to the thoughts below, always make sure to check on your local guidance for opening back up to the public as well as regularly checking the CSC’s Guidance for Businesses and Workplaces.
Here’s what you should consider:
1. Remote work policy: If you are like most small businesses, you did not have a telecommuting/remote work policy in place when shelter-at-home orders were enacted. But that needs to change.
If you plan to allow some or all of your workforce to continue to work remotely, consider:
- Which jobs will be remote, and which will require an employee’s physical presence? This needs to be spelled out, either in an employment manual or in an employment contract.
- Can the right to work remotely be altered or revoked?
- What sort of communication, productivity and reporting will you require?
- Will the business reimburse employees for work-at-home expenses?
- Document which positions will not be suited for remote work.
If you found telecommuting did not serve your business well, you should document why remote work is not feasible for certain positions. A paper trail is important to show should an employee request the right to work remotely and you have to deny the request.
2. Safety and sanitation: For both the safety of your employees and customers, as well as the legal protection of your business, you need procedures and policies with regard to how you will be sanitizing your place of business. What will be cleaned and how often? Who will be responsible? How often will communal spaces (lunchrooms) and shared equipment (computers) be cleaned? What products will be used? How will your cleanliness procedures be documented?
Similarly, consider creating hand-washing stations and protocols, as well as having hand sanitizer out for public use.
3. Social distancing: This will be with us for a while; how will your company do it? What will your employees need to know in order to create and enforce six-foot distancing? Many businesses, markets for example, are painting six-foot markers for where customers need to stand in the checkout line. Should you institute some visible markers for your employees as well?
Also, does your locale require the wearing of masks? Even if not, will you want to require that rule for your staff, for the safety of both themselves and customers?
4. Health screening: While you may be tempted to implement a procedure to require regular health checks and temperature screenings for employees, this needs to be done very carefully. There are HIPAA health privacy laws that must be adhered to and as such, any such screening must be done in conjunction with federal and state laws, and your lawyer.
For more information, see Updated EEOC COVID-19 Guidance, and note “Employers should remember that guidance from public health authorities is likely to change as the COVID-19 pandemic evolves. Therefore, employers should continue to follow the most current information on maintaining workplace safety.”
5. Sickness and sick days: Your policies with regard to illness and calling in sick need to be clear and airtight so your staff knows when to call in sick, especially with regard to COVID-19. Obviously, you do not want anyone coming into the office who could even possibly be experiencing coronavirus or have had exposure to someone who has, so this needs to be made clear.
Moreover, what process will you use to determine if someone showing possible symptoms needs to be sent home? You may want to consider implementing a mandatory 14-day work from home policy for employees who may have been exposed.
In fact, you may want to consider creating a specific stand-alone health policy for coronavirus-related illnesses, time-off, and family leave (even if you are not subject to the Family and Medical Leave Act).
6. Documentation: It is especially important to implement processes for documenting everything related to your safety, health, sanitation, and employee efforts. This means you should update employee handbooks and contracts. Post rules and policies publicly and create a physical paper trail. We are in uncharted waters and being extra cautious, and documenting that caution, is the smart move.
Steven D. Strauss is one of the world's leading experts on small business and is a lawyer, writer, and speaker. The senior small business columnist for USA Today, his Ask/servlet/JiveServlet/downloadImage/38-3373-418524/steve+strauss+headshot.png an Expert column is one of the most highly-syndicated business columns in the country. He is the best-selling author of 17 books, including his latest, The Small Business Bible, now out in a completely updated third edition. You can also listen to his weekly podcast, Small Business Success.© Steven D. Strauss
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