With COVID-19 restrictions slowly lifting throughout the county, businesses reopening their offices, stores and workplaces after the closures are under pressure to get it right. Employees, customers, governmental oversight agencies and the collective conscience want to see it done safely, quickly and successfully.
Here are some tools that can help:
Start with a checklist. Many industry groups, including restaurants, have generated specific guidelines for their constituents to aid with resuming business operations while keeping the health and safety of their employees and customers as a top priority. However, these general checklists only go so far.
Review requirements for your specific business and location. While Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey entered into a pact for timing their reopening phases, each state has various requirements for reopening various businesses. A group called “MultiState” published a daily tracker monitoring how states and localities are responding to the crisis. Multiple state resources are aggregated and linked in a user-friendly format there. Further, your county or municipality may have overlapping requirements. Generally, the most stringent requirements (whether at the state or local level) are those you must meet to be in compliance.
Implement effective public health measures that will help you successfully meet the expectations of your employees and your customers without breaking the bank. Experts agree there is no business, governmental agency or nonprofit in existence that can completely eliminate COVID-19 risk. The best you can do or expect is that the risk is minimized to an acceptable level. Ultimately, this may require adjusting your business model, as it had been said people and businesses should plan for an 18-24 month COVID-19 cycle through the spring of 2022.
Make and publicize a reopening plan. Currently, there appear to be limited governmental resources devoted to enforcing restrictions on reopening safely. In jurisdictions affected by protests, ensuring responsible businesses reopening will be low on the priority list. Regardless, employees and customers expect appropriate precautions. Some states and localities are requiring the submission of “reopening plans” for businesses or business sectors. Mandated or not, communication is key. Posting the plan where employees and customers can access it demonstrates that your business takes health concerns seriously and is affecting change to protect others.
Be prepared for inspections and address infractions promptly. If any governmental agency (police, health department, OSHA, etc.) seeks access to your business for inspection, you are entitled to know the criteria by which you are being measured. The inspector should have a checklist or rubric that you can ask to see, have a copy or access online. If your business is cited for any infraction, attempt to correct it on the spot, while the inspector is there, and obtain confirmation from the inspector as to whether the correction is sufficient at that time. Any infractions that cannot be corrected on the spot should be provided to you in writing by the inspector at the conclusion of the inspection process. Insist upon immediate feedback, as a report sent to you in the mail weeks later is much more difficult to address. After receiving notice of the infractions, prepare a written plan of correction as soon as possible, which should include training considerations in addition to correction(s) of the immediate problem.
Planning and critical assessment of resources and requirements are needed to reopen your business successfully. Support from consultants, governmental agencies, industry groups and circles of influence has never been more important. Whether you’re in the planning process, in the trenches of reopening or subject to an inspection that appears problematic, seek and take advantage of the resources available to you in this constantly shifting arena.