We at the Virtual Chamber wanted to share some helpful information regarding COVID-19 and Small Businesses. This article represents some tidbits of info regarding common occurrences that a small business may face with links where applicable to helpful sources of information.
We’ve been reading on the web lately all about it, and I’m sure you have as well. You might have heard that the CDC has detected the virus in 90 locations or countries across the world, and the USA is among them. But with past outbreaks, a level head and general caution will go far. These can be applied to your small business as well.
Focus Points for Small Business
Experts from across the spectrum in small business management advise three main categories that you should focus on in times such as these.
- Maintain your responsibilities, legal or otherwise. Don’t let good business practices fall behind, and keep doing what your business needs to do.
- Keep up with the cleaning. Follow CDC Guidelines to minimize the spread of the virus
- Communicate with your customers and build trust, keep them updated with any on-going changes or ways they may be affected.
In this time, it’s crucially important to establish great communication practices with employees, vendors and customers. The BBB agrees in saying that maintaining honesty and an open line of communication with those important to your day to day business is crux. Customers should know of changes that might affect them, and keeping a realistic approach and setting attainable expectations should in turn keep them from being too upset about changes needing made. Try to be as transparent as possible, and maintain a level of integrity. People will know when you’ve started to take advantage of the crisis and raise prices or cost of service.
Follow Local and Federal Guidelines for Employee Sick Leave
Important note to start here: The CDC recommends NOT asking your employee for a doctor’s note. If this wasn’t something they have for you already, it’s not worth the extra strain on the flooded medical system.
There are some guidelines set forth by Family and Medical Leave Act and Americans with Disabilities act concerning sick leave. In short, employees could get leave via either of the aforementioned acts. Most companies above 50 employees have to provide up to 12 weeks of leave (paid or unpaid at their discretion) without any threat to their position with the company. Not all businesses reach that 50 man mark, but it’s still worth your time looking through local and federal rules for leave and your employees.
Be Careful Not to Discriminate
This is a shorter section because the message is clear. Avoid discrimination lawsuits by not ordering things like all pregnant women must now work from home, or all employees of Italian and Chinese descent must work from home.
There are times when you will want to have certain employees work from home, but do so based solely on CDC Guidelines. If you have a traveling employee that was in South Korea lately, you might not want them to work in the office, that’s fine, so long as it’s about where they’ve been recently, and not where they’re from or because you may feel they might be more susceptible than others.
Keep a Headcount of Who is Sick
This is for several reasons. Primarily, if they were to have contracted the virus on the job, OSHA will need a form filled out by you and submitted. This is naturally hard to prove, so it’s best to check with your local authorities what might be the best plan for you if you’re not sure.
Of those that have gotten sick, for HIPAA reasons alone, do not make this known to the general workforce who exactly got sick. There may have to be some communication to your team about exposure or updated instructions after having received the knowledge, but for legal reasons, don’t share who the individual was.
What if one of my hires is diagnosed with or exposed to Coronavirus?
Here are some first steps to take when you learn an employee has been exposed to coronavirus:
- Send them home right away
- Find out who worked with the exposed – ask them who was working near them
- Alert your team and affiliates that they may have been exposed – Do so while being conscious of privacy concerns outlined above
- Follow OSHA’s guidelines for making a record of this event – https://www.osha.gov/recordkeeping/
- Make recommendations to your staff, but you cannot require them to seek medical services or to ask to take their temperature.
- Clean! Follow CDC cleaning practices for mitigating the spread. OSHA also has this page for Safety and Health topics
This is outside the above, but it may be a handy idea to come up with a way to incentivize employees to stay home. An hourly employee afraid of losing wages may fake their health, and expose more people. As this shouldn’t be encouraged, maybe finding a means to keep them paid or placated otherwise is advisable, which leads me into the next point.
Create a Work From Home Policy
Join the hottest trend sweeping the nation, and consider putting into place a policy that lets personnel work from home where applicable. This mitigates the spread of the disease, keeps Moms happy as their kids are out of school, and other benefits.
This won’t apply to every employee or every business, but take stock of those that can work from home with their position. Have a look at your software and hardware, make sure those employees who need access to various programs, websites, or machines have it when working from home. Come up with a game plan for communicating and collaborating, and a means of tracking progress on important tasks if necessary. Use technology to keep things moving!
For those that can’t do a work from home model, keep your employees and customers informed, place necessary travel restrictions, showcase your insurance and sick policies, and really drive home the point of hygiene and best practices in these times.
Hope for the Best, but Prepare for the Worst
Sad though it may be, the worst may still yet come. Markets are in a flurry, and supply lines are hindered in many ways. Definitely keep an eye and set some rules for keeping communicated with your suppliers, workforce, and customer base as these times may require changes.
Also keep informed on loans that may be granted to businesses. There are both Federal and Local options for this. SBA.gov for Federal loans and Region10.net for grants/loans in our area both have solid information on the matter. These could be crucial in the longevity of your business.