As states around the country reopen, many business owners are looking forward to getting back to normal. Unfortunately, a “real normal” is still quite far away. Right now, businesses and services of all kinds are facing a phased reopening.
How can you reopen your business safely while adhering to state and federal guidelines? It’s certainly a challenge, and there’s a lot to think about. Here are some tips and ideas for keeping your employees and customers safe while you reopen your doors.
Review Building Maintenance
This might be the last thing on your mind after an extended shutdown, but if your store or office location has been dormant for several weeks or months, maintenance is a concern.
You might need to review cleaning, replacing air filters, and even flushing your plumbing lines. When you haven’t had people or activity in your building for some time, the inactivity can cause problems. Be sure to do a thorough maintenance review before you reopen.
You also want to make sure your storage room is in order. If you’ve had cardboard boxes in your back room or closets for a few months, or if you’re intending on moving boxes into a new space once the restrictions have lifted, the cardboard may need to be moved or disposed of. Especially if there have been spills or leaks, the boxes may have broken down while you were closed. Be sure to review and clean up any messes before work resumes.
Create a Cleaning and Disinfection Plan
The public and your employees are very aware of the dangers of germ-ridden surfaces with COVID-19 spreading throughout the country. You want your store to be a place where everyone feels safe and confident, and that means cleaning much more frequently than you had before.
Remember that COVID-19 does not live on untouched surfaces for longer than seven days, so you don’t have to disinfect your entire store before reopening. Regular cleaning will work to start with, and you can add disinfecting as employees and customers begin to use the space.
You can kill the virus that causes COVID-19 with the right cleaning products. The EPA has created a list of recommended products that you can use in your own home and business. Ensure the employees using these cleaning supplies wear appropriate gloves and protection; they are meant for surfaces, not human contact!
The CDC notes that regular soap-and-water cleaning decreases risk, and frequent disinfection of surfaces touched by a lot of people is also vital. Be careful not to mix bleach or other cleaning solutions together, as this can cause dangerous fumes. Instead, follow the instructions on the label.
As you reopen, make sure you do not overuse or stockpile cleaning supplies. Doing so creates shortages for others who need the same products. Instead, purchase what you need and use them appropriately. Outdoor areas can be cleaned normally without disinfectant unless there are seating or other customer-use surfaces. Those surfaces should be disinfected.
Communicate Your COVID-19 Plan
For employees and customers to feel confident in your store after reopening, they need to understand the steps you’re taking to prevent infection.
Make sure you fully understand the reopening process for your state as well as the federal phased-reopening plan. Communicate these standards to your employees as well as customers, and make decisions about how they will be enforced in your business. There have been some dangerous clashes between customers and employees at some stores regarding safety standards, so it may be a good idea to have a manager handle difficult customers.
As you talk with your staff, you may find that people have differing opinions about preventative health, including vaccines and what PPE is wanted in the office, meaning many people may be returning with different levels of immunity, disease sensitivities, and so on. Decide ahead of time what you’re going to require as part of the reopening of your business, what you expect from your employees, and what you can be flexible about.
Consider Your Legal Exposure
We live in a society where the answer to every wrong is to sue. As a result, it’s essential to consider your legal exposure before you open your doors. Both employees and customers are a source of legal risk, and it’s important to take proper responsibility for the safety of both groups.
Someone who comes into contact with the virus at your store should not be able to point to shortcomings in your cleaning, PPE, or other procedures. However, even doing everything right doesn’t always prevent infection. To limit your liability, appoint someone on your staff to be the point person for all legal guidelines related to COVID-19. This includes rules and suggestions from OSHA, the CDC, the World Health Organization, your state, and the federal government. These suggestions evolve quickly, so staying up-to-date is a daily task.
Then, make sure you communicate — even over-communicate — your preventative measures and cleaning process to your customers, employees, and vendors. You can require PPE as a condition of employment and screen employees for health concerns in accordance with federal laws.
Because businesses are private property, you are also within your rights to require customers to wear a mask if they come into your establishment. As long as wearing a face mask is enforced in a non-discriminatory manner, it’s perfectly legal. Customers may object and protest, so you’ll need to be ready for that possibility.
These steps may not prevent a lawsuit entirely, but it can reduce your legal exposure. Always be sure to consult with your lawyer for practical legal advice.
You Can Reopen and Thrive
COVID-19 phasing can be tricky to navigate, but it is possible. With the right cleaning procedures, PPE, communication processes, and legal considerations, a business can begin to move toward normal.
It will be a long time until we’re truly over the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the steps toward economic recovery can begin now with your small business. It’s time to – carefully – reopen!