Reducing Risk During The Reopening
Dan Levenson May 18, 2020
State by state, industry by industry, American businesses are being allowed to reopen. As the country’s patchwork of federal, state, and civic stay-at-home orders are lifted, business owners are faced with tough calculations. They know that reopening is overwhelmingly unpopular, with large numbers of consumers telling pollsters that they intend to avoid shops and in-person services regardless of legal restrictions. On the other hand, many are counting on the government to step in with financial assistance during the shutdown. Will that assistance dry up if they choose to remain closed when no law requires it?
But the biggest question looming in every employer’s mind is, “How can I keep my employees safe?” This is not just a moral question, but also a financial one. Skilled employees becoming sick means lost revenue. It can also mean expenses. Employers in some areas are now being required to provide paid sick leave, and disruption in the schedule can also leave them on the hook for overtime pay as other employees pick up the slack. Most pressingly, an employer accused of taking insufficient precautions may be vulnerable to a lawsuit.
So how can you help your employees protect themselves? By taking a page from the book of the businesses that are still open.
The CDC recommends that all employees should have their temperature checked before they recommence work. Preferably, this should be done outside the facility, so that there’s no chance of a sick employee coming into contact with their coworkers. Remember that patients can spread Covid-19 even if they show no symptoms, so simply asking employees to self-quarantine if they have come into contact with a patient is not enough. They might have become at risk without knowing. All employees’ temperatures should be checked regularly with a forehead thermometer.
Once this is done, don’t let your guard down. Provide all employees with masks and gloves, and instruct them to maintain six feet (two meters) of social distance at all times. Clean and disinfect nonporous surfaces, especially high-touch ones like doorknobs and buttons, as often as you practically can. These precautions are particularly important in customer-facing roles, but not exclusive to them. Treat each employee as if they might be an asymptomatic spreader of the virus. At first, these precautions may make you feel cold and heartless, but remember that you are ensuring your employees’ safety.
Other safety precautions may be necessary. The break room, or whatever space employees use to congregate in your workplace, should be off-limits until infection rates fall. Have strict rules against employees touching or borrowing anything that another employee has used without PPE — no sharing of headphones, no passing around of phones. If you have porous surfaces in your facility — a couch or an armchair, for instance — consider covering it with a wipeable plastic sheet. The same goes for any high-touch electronics like ATMs or credit card readers, which cannot be thoroughly cleaned with liquid disinfectants.
Lastly, to protect your employees and your business, think about what aspects of your work can be done remotely. Customers are going to avoid brick-and-mortar stores for a long time to come. If your business has a mail-order or e-commerce arm, think about diverting people and resources to it. Think about what services your customers need and how you can provide them in a socially distanced way. If not, now is the time to build one. No business is going to survive 2020 without adapting, improvising, and rethinking what their industry is and can do.