Considerations When Reopening Your Businesses

May 27, 2020

It’s a daunting time to run a business.  A time where both fear and excitement have blended together.  Fear that the pandemic is still present and excitement that we will be able to reopen our economy.  The Governor of NY has given us many tools and guidance with reducing the spread top of mind.

Before a business reopens, there is nothing better than having a plan.  In fact, there is an entire list of requirements that require dedicated resources, leadership, and consistent employee communications.  We compiled a list of considerations we are recommending before reopening your business.

Planning and Communication- Each business should form a committee or identify the person who is responsible for researching and planning the implementation of all local, state and federal guidelines, industry practices, geographic location and business needs. This guidance changes weekly and someone needs to stay current, with the power to implement the changes.

The designated person/committee should determine who will return to work, the possible restructuring of jobs, and the restructuring of work schedules to meet safety standards.  Businesses should see this as an important opportunity to “clean house” on multiple levels.  If managers have been complaining about Harry’s or Sue’s performance, maybe you should not hire them back.  Different job structuring may require a look at job descriptions and compensation.  If you were concerned with classification errors, this is a good time to correct them.  Decide which terminated or laid-off employees will be hired back.  Does the business have the resources to do all the new hire paperwork such as wage notices, tax forms, benefit enrollment, etc.?

Benefits-Speaking of enrollment, businesses should check all their plan documents.  Will restructured roles still be eligible for health plans based on new  hours worked?  What do the plans say about reinstatement periods?  There have been changes to Section 125 benefits.  Communicate new time codes set up for EPSLA and EFMLA because the business can receive tax credits if these leaves are coded correctly.

Policies and Posters-The business should have their handbook updated to include all the new and eminent forms of leave.  We are suggesting a supplement created at this time that covers Infectious Disease, Expectations for Remote Workers, FFCRA benefits and physical/personal hygiene protocols unique to this period of time.  You may want to consider revising the bereavement policy.  Due to the sick time requirements, a business may want to look at their existing paid leave allocations.  There are a couple of new required posters that must appear at every business location.  Remember remote workers are considered workplaces so employers need a global way to communicate these new policies and posters.  Once again, technology can be our friend.

Leaves of Absences and Accommodations-  Federal and State governments have responded to the pandemic with new leave of absence programs.  With the pandemic at the forefront, we have almost forgotten employees have other illness or injuries.  It is time to update and implement a mechanism to handle requests for family and/or the employees’ need for leave and accommodation.  This is risky business.  There are so many layers to consider and handling leaves properly requires knowledge of the laws and the ability to communicate employee rights and responsibilities.  Many businesses have raised the white flag and outsourced leave of absences to a third party.

Employee Well Being-The other side of reopening is anticipating employees fears and anxiety about returning to work.  There is no better time for good leadership and managers need to step up.  Could your managers use some training?  Communication is also key because the employer may need to spell out why employees can’t refuse to come back to work, yet at the same time understand when they can be flexible based on the business needs.  Businesses can get a jump on rumors and misinformation by communicating clearly what measures the business is taking to meet all the building, equipment and personal cleaning and disinfecting protocols.  To reopen, all businesses must implement protective personal equipment such as face masks and gloves.  State law requires employers to test employees before work and the system should be delivered evenly.  Requirements include recording and reporting of COVID-19 symptoms, tracking and tracing of cases.

If your head is spinning right know, it means you understand all the complexities involved before businesses can reopen.  Some business may conclude it is not possible.  Others will adapt.  If all goes well, the plan will allow businesses to reopen safely and stay open.  Until a solution to the pandemic is found, we all need to consider one last thing.  What do we do if we see a spike in cases?  The plan must include the “what ifs” and react quickly and accordingly.

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