Protecting Your Small Business Against Health Risks
Protecting your small business against the COVID-19 outbreak has become the number one priority for business owners. Small business owners everywhere are having to make tough choices and adapt as the coronavirus outbreak spreads across the United States. While some business owners have been forced to close their doors to comply with orders from their state’s governor or local health authorities, others have been able to keep their doors open. If you have been afforded the luxury of keeping your doors open, it comes with some important responsibilities. There are a number of steps and precautions that you must take as a business owner to ensure the safety of your employees and to do your part in slowing the spread of COVID-19.
We’ve put together the four things you must do, synthesized from guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and OSHA, to disinfect and protect your small business following a health scare.
1. Protecting Your Small Business: Protect Your Employees: Social Distancing and Work Adaptation
First and foremost, it is your responsibility as a business owner to protect the health and well-being of your employees. Take the steps necessary to communicate the following with your workforce.
Dealing With Sick Employees
If any of your employees report that they have COVID-19 symptoms, they should not come into work. Employees that test positive or show an abundance of symptoms should follow the CDC’s recommended steps for isolation and personal hygiene and should stay home until cleared to return to work.
Even if your employees are not sick, if someone that they live with, like a roommate or their family members, is sick with COVID-19 or is developing symptoms they should notify their manager and follow the necessary precautions.
If your business does not have a sick leave policy in place, implementing a non-punitive “emergency sick leave” policy can do wonders to reduce contact between potential carriers and healthy individuals. If you do have an existing sick leave policy, consider expanding it even if expansion simply includes the provision that missing extra work does not lead to a sick worker losing their job. Work with your human resources department, or whoever deals with employee management, to provide additional information on taking advantage of sick leave, using time off, receiving medical care, and guidance from local health organizations to keep people healthy.
It’s important to note that employees should not require a doctor’s note or a positive COVID-19 test to validate their illness or qualify for sick leave. Healthcare providers are all running above and beyond their normal capacity and response times for medical care and testing can be very slow. Use your best judgment but be flexible with your employees as you navigate this crisis.
Remember: A lack of sick leave policies that help workers manage to be unable to come to work can break down the best-laid plans to reduce the spread of coronavirus.
Where Possible, Implement Social Distancing
Social distancing entails the avoidance of large gatherings and maintaining distance (at least 6 feet) between yourself and others. In your day-to-day operations, implement social distancing practices to reduce close contact between individuals where possible.
Here are just a few ways that you can easily implement social distancing into your workplace:
- Put extra space or partitions between customers and cash register operators to help reduce the respiratory spread of the COVID-19 virus
- Ensure that all business delivery services be done without contact by mandating curbside pick-up and delivery
- Try postpone non-critical meetings and move other meetings online. For onsite meetings, have attendees sit in every other chair or with two chairs between each person
We know that small business owners know their business best. Think through how you could implement social distancing into your unique workplace to do your part in preventing the spread of the virus.
To The Extent Possible, Allow For Remote Work
The best way to reduce the spread of the virus between employees is to ensure that employees have no physical contact, and remote work is the best way to do that.
While for some jobs, like retail or restaurant work, it is impossible to work remotely, there are many jobs that could be potentially done from home if workers have the equipment necessary to do so.
Salespeople could make their sales calls and manage accounts from the comfort of a home office or living room, customer service reps could bring their materials home with them and accept calls at home, and some inventory managers could do the work of managing supply chains on their laptop.
Think through the roles done by each of your employees and analyze if it’s possible to allow that employee to do their job from home.
2. Protecting Your Small Business: Disinfect Your Workplace: Cleaning and Etiquette
Protecting your workers and employees also requires that you implement and stay consistent with basic infection prevention procedures. The following steps from OSHA’s guidance for preparing workplaces in light of COVID-19 are a great starting place:
- Hand-washing and Hand Hygiene: Make it a part of the basic work routine to have employees, customers, and other visitors frequently either wash their hands or sanitize with 60% alcohol hand sanitizers
- Sanitation: Maintain and, preferably, bolster existing housekeeping practices with a focus on sanitizing high-traffic areas and high-contact surfaces like doorknobs, payment counters, and frequently used equipment. Use EPA-approved cleaning chemicals that are effective against the COVID-19 virus
- It may be prudent to place disinfectant wipes at many stations around the workplace to allow for quick and convenient disinfection
- Recognize Symptoms: Educate employees about recognizing COVID-19 symptoms and develop a plan for isolating those who begin to show symptoms while at work
- Respiratory Etiquette: Educate all workplace visitors on appropriate respiratory etiquette, especially concerning covering coughs and sneezes
- Don’t Share: Discourage workers from using each other’s phones, desks, offices, or work equipment
- Basic PPE: Where possible and applicable, provide basic personal protective equipment (PPE) like latex gloves and basic face masks for those workers who don’t usually use PPE in their regular work
3. Protecting Your Small Business: Assess Your Business Operations: Take Steps Necessary to Adapt Your Business To The Situation
Take a look at your workplace and regular operations and try to anticipate “hot spots” for transmission. High traffic areas, sample tables, and payment centers are all examples where there is a lot of personal contact and potential for the person-to-person or surface-to-person transmission.
Do what you can to reduce the chance of transmission:
- Open up tight areas to allow for space between workers and customers
- Leave sanitizing wipes on payment counters, near credit card machines, and near other high-contact areas to allow for quick and easy disinfection after each usage
- Discourage employees from touching merchandise that a customer is interested in and encourage, as we discussed, socially distant contact between workers and customers
It’s also prudent to assess steps that you can take to limit the number of people coming to work each day and the contact people have with their colleagues and customers. Remote work, reduced staffing, implementing flexible work hours through staggered shifts, flexible meeting options, and no-contact delivery of goods and services are all ways that you can reduce contact between people at the worksite and during work activities.
Additionally, you should suspend all non-essential travel and limit as much as possible any movement between business locations, if you have more than one.
4. Protecting Your Small Business: Work Together With Your Local Community, Business Partners, and Workforce To Tackle This Together
The COVID-19 pandemic is unprecedented for everyone, and we’re all doing our best to navigate the public health crisis and make the best of a bad situation.
Coming from a place of good-faith and empathy, work together with your employees, business partners, suppliers, and customers to implement the guidelines from health and labor authorities described above and find reasonable adaptations that everyone can follow to reduce the spread of the virus while keeping your business afloat.
Maintaining constant communication and involving people from every aspect of your business in the development of plans and contingencies for dealing with the virus will do three things:
- Sources the best information from the people who do the jobs that need to be adapted,
- Increases the “buy-in” so that the implementation of measures to reduce the spread of the virus and steps you take to protect your small business is successful,
- Keeps everyone involved sane by providing a community of support.
Additional resources with information specific to certain types of businesses and other key guidelines can be found on the CDC’s website, OSHA’s business guidance, and by contacting your local Health Department or health official’s office.