The U.S. has bled millions of dollars in business since COVID-19 shuttered millions of businesses and forced consumers indoors. But now that many states are slowly reopening their economies, you need to understand the best way to move forward to ensure the safety of your workers and customers. Here’s what you need to know.
Understand The Rules
Each state has its own rules and guidance for reopening businesses. It’s important that you understand when you can open and under what conditions. In Washington state, Governor Inslee has unveiled a four-phase approach for reopening the economy. As of the date of this newsletter, most of Washington is in Phase 1. Below is a chart explaining all four phases.
Washington counties will be measured by four key areas before they are allowed to move from one phase to the next:
- Healthcare system readiness
- Testing capacity and availability
- Case and contact investigations
- Ability to protect high-risk populations
In Washington many counties are advancing to Phase 2.
Asotin, Columbia, Garfield, Lincoln, Ferry, Pend Oreille, Skamania, Stevens, Wahkiakum, and Whitman counties have been approved for Phase 2.
Spokane, Adams, Mason, Thurston, Lewis, Clark, Clallam, Kitsap, Island, and San Juan counties are eligible to apply for Phase 2.
To find out more about how Washington is determining which counties can reopen and in which phase, please visit: https://www.governor.wa.gov/sites/default/files/SafeStartWA_4May20_1pm.pdf
Whether your business operates in mostly a retail environment or an office building, it’s important that you consider all key guidance points to make your workplace safe for employees and clients/customers.
You should consider the following:
- Prepping workspace
- Workplace cleanliness
- Physical distancing
- Mask policies
A small amount of planning will go a long way in keeping you aligned with government rules and building trust with employees and customers who may be reluctant to resume in-person contact with people outside their household.
If it has been several months since your worksite has been occupied at full capacity, it’s important that you test all systems to make sure they are in working order. One of the biggest issues some people may overlook is that some buildings that have had low- or no occupancy for months, weeks, or even just days may experience the growth of mold anywhere there is moisture. Your building should be checked for mold before reopening. If left uncorrected, mold growth can cause respiratory illness in employees. Another issue that you should check for is the growth of bacteria in your plumbing system. Standing water in a plumbing system can increase the risk for growth and spread of Legionella, bacteria that can cause Legionnaires disease. People with compromised immune systems are particularly vulnerable to developing this disease if exposed to the bacteria. One way to reduce risk is by flushing your water system before employees return to the worksite.
The CDC offers a comprehensive guide to prepping your building and preventing/fixing these hazards.
The understanding of this novel coronavirus is currently evolving but as of the date of this publication, it’s understood that the virus is spread primarily through respiratory droplets and by touching surfaces that is hosting the virus. However, in the past few days the CDC is saying that the virus isn’t spread as easily through surfaces as initially reported. In any case, businesses that are reopening must take into account the hygiene of their physical worksite and their employees. Here’s what you should know:
- Sick employees should remain home. While it is true that some employees may not be sick with the novel coronavirus or just have allergies, employees who are showing signs of illness should not be allowed to work on-site.
- Shared tools and workspaces should be disinfected after each use. This includes keyboards, mice, and cash registers. Employers should put into place protocols for disinfecting workspaces. Make sure that these protocols are followed every time an item is used. Having even just one infected employee could shut down your business and make other employees refuse to return.
- Employee personal hygiene should be encouraged. Employers should provide hand sanitizer, soap and water, and give ample time for employees to sanitize their hands regularly. And if your employees are working directly with the public, employers should provide facemasks/coverings—more on masks later.
Government and health authorities are recommending that people keep at least 6 feet distance from each other. This is true even if they are wearing masks. The 6 feet rule is especially important for employees working with customers/employers daily for multiple hours. Here’s what you should consider:
- Allow some employees to work from home so you can reduce your onsite numbers.
- Assign cubicles in a way that allows employees to maintain 6 feet distance from other workers.
- Institute policies that reduce or eliminate face-to-face communication. Consider video conferencing, email, or Slack channels for most or all communication between employees.
Considerations For Restaurants
For employees working directly with your customers, consider the following:
- Contactless payment. Encourage or even require that customers pay for purchases via credit card, debit card or through online apps. Some restaurants are offering a discount to customers who order online.
- Clearly mark how much distance customers should maintain from others when waiting in line. Some restaurants are using blue tape on the floor to mark 6 feet of distance between customers.
- Provide face coverings and plastic sneeze guards for employees who are working the cash register.
- Consider giving bonus pay especially if you want to keep your best employees working.
- Don’t allow customers to use their own containers such as reusable cups.
- Use disposable utensils and plates when possible.
- Don’t allow unmasked customers to dine-in at your restaurant.
- Post your requirements on your website and on your front door.
A Note On Ventilation
If you are in Phase 2 of reopening, make sure that you increase ventilation by opening windows and doors in your dining hall. And when possible, consider serving customers outdoors.
As of the date of this newsletter, Washington has a public directive stating that all residents should wear face coverings when in public settings when they can’t easily maintain a physical distance of 6 feet from other people. To be aligned with this policy, employers should require employees to wear face coverings especially when working directly with the public or in enclosed spaces.
Here are a few tips on how to help employees overcome the awkwardness of face coverings:
- Post public health announcements provided by your local government.
- Educate employees about the risks of the COVID-19 and how face coverings protect them and others.
- Have a compassionate discussion with employees who are resistant to wearing masks.
- Understand that some people may be unable to wear face coverings due to health reasons.
- Show employees that leadership is wearing face coverings.
- Make it fun: Consider providing a “prize” to employees who come to work with the most creative face coverings.
- Brand your own face covering. Put your logo on a face covering and give them away to your employees.
As your community reopens, keep your eyes on new directives and guidance. Taking a responsible approach to reopening post-quarantine is just good business.