As states begin to lift or modify their Covid-19 stay-at-home orders, business owners need to consider how their business can reopen and operate as safely as possible. The first and most obvious step is to determine whether your business in eligible to reopen. For example, as of the date of this post in Ohio, offices can reopen now, and most retail businesses will be able to reopen by May 14. Other businesses and operations, however, still have no reopen date. These include:
- K-12 schools and childcare services
- Older adult day care services and senior centers
- Restaurants and bars, although they are permitted to provide carryout and delivery
- Personal appearance services such as hair salons, day spas, nail salons, barbershops, tattoo parlors, tanning facilities, and massage therapy
- Entertainment/recreation/gymnasium operations such as laser tag facilities, roller skating rinks, ice skating rinks, arcades, indoor miniature golf, bowling alleys, indoor trampoline parks, casinos, auditoriums, stadiums, sports arenas, movie theaters, performance halls, concert halls, public recreation centers, indoor sports facilities, children’s play centers, country clubs, social clubs
- Health clubs, fitness centers, workout facilities, gyms, and yoga studios
That list is just a sample, and only applies to Ohio. Different standards and rules will apply in different states.
Whether you are able to reopen now or not, business owners should start developing protocols for operating safely, to protect employees, customers, and visitors from coronavirus. There are a variety of considerations, depending on the nature of the business. Some of these considerations are:
- Reduced capacity to maintain social distancing – are there specific state requirements that apply to your business, and if not, what will your business be able to do?
- Will you be able to implement special hours for people at higher risk, such as the elderly?
- How will you implement appropriate capacity limits and social distancing? – for example, markings on the floor, having someone at the door to admit customers
- Will you be able to implement curbside pickup and delivery?
- How will you sanitize the interior of your business, such as door handles and other frequently-touched surfaces, and how often? Can you provide hand sanitizer in high-touch locations? Do you have enough cleaning supplies and sanitizer to last at least three weeks?
- Can you close your business at least once a week for deep cleaning?
- Do you need to install plexiglass barriers at cashier stations or reception desks? If your office has an open plan design, should you install plexiglass or other barriers between workstations?
- Do you have signage on health safety guidelines that you can post in common areas?
- If you are a retail clothing business, what if a customer tries on a garment and then decides not to purchase it? Does it go back on the rack? Should customers be able to try on garments? Will you accept product returns, and if so, how will you handle the returned product?
- For an office, manufacturing, or other service facility, do you need to move workstations farther apart, or de-activate workstations to maintain social distancing?
- How will you determine whether your employees are healthy to work? Are you familiar with the symptoms of COVID-19? Do you have the equipment to take employees’ temperature? Will you question each employee at the start of the work shift, or will you rely on employees to self-report any symptoms? What will you do if an employee reports symptoms or if you suspect an employee or customers may be symptomatic?
- Will you mandate that employees wear masks and gloves? Are you able to provide them with an adequate supply AND train them on how to properly wear and remove such items?
- Will you require customers, delivery persons, and service providers to wear masks while in your place of business? If so, will you provide masks to those that do not have them? What if a customer, delivery person, or service provider refuses to wear a mask? What if there is an altercation between customers over wearing masks or maintaining social distancing – how will you handle it?
It is crucial that after you have carefully considered the above factors, as well as any state-mandated rules and other factors that may apply to your business, you draw up a written plan for how your business will operate. Then you have to train your staff in how to carry out that plan. When appropriate, you should also have procedures in place to document compliance. For example, it isn’t sufficient to set up a cleaning and sanitization schedule. You also need to document that the cleaning and sanitization took place, and who conducted it. Keeping documentation of these procedures and your compliance with them will be essential to reducing your liability. You might consider sharing your procedures with your liability insurance carrier, and making revisions if suggested by the carrier. Finally, informing customers and visitors of the procedures you are following will help in raising their confidence that you are taking adequate measures to protect them from exposure to coronavirus.