Re-opening a business in the post-COVID-19 world is sure to be nerve-racking for businesses and patrons alike. Many business owners are wondering what precautions should be taken and best practices for implementing measures to protect customers and employees alike.
First and foremost, business owners and managers should consult their local municipalities, state agencies, and federal agencies (e.g., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)) to determine whether they may reopen and under what circumstances such operations may be permitted.
Businesses should put patrons on notice of any decisions to reopen and procedures to be implemented by updating their websites, social media accounts, and posting clear and conspicuous signage on and outside of their buildings describing the precautionary measures being taken and the strict conditions that customers must meet in order to enter the business premises. Signage and notices should be easy to quickly read and understand and avoid the use of convoluted language. Businesses should not be shy about describing the potential risk of entering their property and that while they are taking steps to mitigate the risk of COVID-19, it is impossible to guarantee that visitors will not contract the virus. If possible, decision-makers should consider making variations of signage in various languages and with clear visual cues so that non-native English speakers are able to comprehend the message, the risks associated, and the steps required to enter the business.
Owners and managers should evaluate the following measures to protect their work staff:
- Developing a written reopening plan with policies and procedures to deal with anticipated and unanticipated issues;
- Monitoring the symptoms of employees and requiring symptomatic workers to go home;
- Deputizing a COVID-19 coordinator for the business to be the contact point for all employees, customers, and vendors who are responsible for all COVID-19 issues and their impact on the workplace;
- Altering workspaces to separate employees and visitors by at least six feet;
- Discouraging the use of common areas such as break rooms;
- Sanitizing high touch areas and equipment thoroughly and frequently;
- Avoiding gatherings of more than ten people and eliminating unnecessary meetings;
- Providing protective equipment such as masks and gloves;
- Evaluating supply chains for procurement of personal protective equipment to ensure the business has adequate supplies to handle the demands of reopening, and requiring the use of all protective equipment by anyone on-site;
- Identifying alternative supply chains in case of shortages, as well as communicating with supply chain partners to share best practices is slowing the spread of COVID-19;
- Establishing guidelines for working remotely and encouraging telecommuting whenever possible, or, in the alternative, flexible schedules where a limited number of employees go to the office each day while the remainder work remotely;
- Providing hand sanitizer and handwashing stations and encouraging hand washing breaks for all employees;
- Creating a contingency plan for scheduling if employees are absent from work due to their own illness or to care for others;
- Limiting parking and reducing access points to the business;
- Contacting insurance providers to determine if COVID-19 and/or other pandemic coverage can be obtained for general and specific policies, and for claims of exposure through workers’ compensation;
- Communicating the business’ plan to employees and obtaining continual feedback on the implementation of the reopening;
- Educating employees about how they can reduce the spread of COVID-19 and employ policies to accomplish such goal;
- Monitoring the condition of all employees and customers and implementing a response plan if COVID-like symptoms are shown; and
- Preparing for the event that the business is forced to cease operations due to a spike in cases in the workplace or even due to government orders.
In addition to the requirements mentioned above and those requirements in the orders applicable to the business’ local jurisdiction, employers should consider the following practices for patrons:
- Screening the physical temperatures of employees and visitors and refusing entry to those with temperatures above 100 degrees Fahrenheit;
- Refusing cash and only accepting electronic transactions;
- Marking premises with suggested standing areas in compliance with social distancing guidelines;
- Requiring customers to wear masks and/or gloves in order to enter your business;
- Requiring visitors to complete a questionnaire certifying they are symptom-free and have not been in contact with high-risk individuals or areas;
- Obtaining (without contact) a digitally signed COVID-19 release and waiver from any visitors of the business to avoid any potential liability due to a visitor contracting COVID-19 during their visit; and
- Offering special hours for vulnerable or at-risk customers.
Business owners should also think about implementing a questionnaire prior to allowing customers or clients to enter the premises. For businesses that require an appointment, calling clients ahead to verify the appointment and conducting the questionnaire over the phone can be an efficient and effective practice. Business owners should also administer a questionnaire upon arrival again as the answers to these questions may change. Such a questionnaire could be printed on paper or sent through a link or QR code to an online survey. Collecting and documenting answers from patrons will help build a record of proactiveness for the business.
Consider asking whether the visitor currently, or within the last fourteen (14) days, has:
- Displayed or experienced flu or cold-like symptoms;
- Displayed or experienced any coughing, sore throat, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, fever, nasal congestion, runny nose, nausea, vomiting, loss of taste and/or smell, diarrhea, or any other symptoms associated with COVID-19;
- Traveled out of the state (or if a member of their household has);
- Tested positive for COVID-19 in the last thirty days; or
- Came into contact with anyone who has tested positive for COVID-19 or its antibodies, or anyone who one could reasonable believe is displaying symptoms of COVID-19
Once approved, consider printing off identification such as a sticker badge listing the visitor’s name, the date and time of printing, affirmation that the visitor cleared the screening questionnaire, and the visitor’s temperature to ensure visitors do not evade these procedures.
Consider obtaining a signed waiver and release from each visitor (and in the case of minors, both the adult guardian and minor visitor) that is prepared by a licensed attorney who can address your business’ specific situation. While waivers and releases are by no means foolproof, they can mitigate risk and alleviate concern especially for businesses that necessitate close contact or are centered around physical activities. Such a document cannot excuse gross negligence or any intentional acts, but it can help provide peace of mind. Additionally, business owners should evaluate what insurance coverage they have and if it is possible to obtain coverage for pandemic-related claims.
Lastly, businesses should document everything being done to address the COVID-19 pandemic and should maintain such record with continuous updates on the effectiveness, efficiency, and feedback received on the plan. Reopening a business is sure to be a gradual and ongoing process in which everyone is learning. For the safety of all employees and customers, employers need to comply with local, state, and federal guidelines in reopening. Each business will have to meet different requirements when and if they are able to reopen depending on its respective industry, but preparedness and proactiveness will help ease the burden and get everyone through the process faster.
About the author: Tariq Adawi is a corporate and intellectual property attorney in Denver, Colorado. Having previously spent a decade as an artist and entrepreneur, Tariq provides unique insights on business and intellectual property matters. Previously, he was the founder and global director of the Slashthree International Art Collective. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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