When California business owners closed their doors in mid-March in response to state orders, they weren’t sure what to expect. Many envisioned a couple of weeks of being closed, and then getting back to normal. But by the end of March, it was pretty obvious that getting back to normal would not be as easy as we all originally hoped. Now, exactly seven weeks since Governor Newsom issued the state-wide stay-at-home order, many business owners are looking to find out what it will take to open back up again. While guidelines are already in place for essential businesses, individual states are still working on their specific guidelines and restrictions as part of the re-opening process.  

In a recent press conference held by the Office of the Governor of California, details were shared about what “Stage 2” will look like. In the presentation, entitled “Update on California’s Pandemic Roadmap,” the Governor’s office stressed that the next stage is not a return to normal; the state will be gradually reopening only in areas where we can reduce the risk of spreading the COVID-19 virus. In this next stage, the Governor will be allowing retailers, manufacturers, and warehouses to immediately begin resuming some operations, with new restrictions that influence distancing, contact, and sanitation practices. Later in this stage, the Governor’s office explained, additional businesses and sectors such as offices that haven’t been able telework, seated dining restaurants, shopping malls and outdoor museums will be able to reopen as well.

The Governor’s office has assured they will release industry-specific guidance soon, but in the meantime, they have asked business owners from all industries to follow some generic guidelines that include: performing detailed risk assessments; training employees on limiting spread and identifying symptoms; and implementing a site-specific protection plan, cleaning/disinfecting protocols and their own physical distancing guidelines for employees. Even with the road map, many business owners are unsure about what their obligations and liabilities are when it comes to reopening during this pandemic. “Being a small business ourselves, it’s really helped us to be able to pinpoint exactly what our clients need to do, because it’s what we need to do too.” explained Vic Tanon, CEO of Emplicity, an HR Outsourcing provider in Irvine, California. Using the Center for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines as well as recommendations from our own Risk Management and Human Resource Specialists we’re sharing the ten most important things employers will need to do before reopening. To further help you nail your reopening, you can download our free Return to Work Checklist here.

1. Create and Implement a COVID-19 Preparedness Plan
A COVID-19 Preparedness Plan should establish and describe the necessary policies, practices, and conditions necessary to meet CDC and California Department of Health (DHCS) guidelines for COVID-19. If the business has customer-facing operations, this plan should also meet federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards related to worker and customer exposure to COVID-19.

2. Review and Revise Existing Policies and Procedures
With the new federal relief programs came new federal guidelines that will need to be woven into the business’s existing policies and procedures. State and local guidelines and restrictions should be factored in as well. Policies and procedures from hiring to termination and everything in between should be reviewed to ensure compliance.

3. Post Required Communications
Per the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), employers are required to post the FFCRA poster in a visible place where all employees can view it. Where employees remain working from home, employers must send the poster by email or post on an employee website. Additional communications may be needed to help employees follow new protocol for cleaning and sanitizing and wearing PPE.

4. Understand and Promote Updated Health and Safety Regulations
New standards have been established for sanitation and protection. Employers should review these new standards and ensure they understand them and have the necessary supplies to implement them.

5. Train Employees
As outlined in the Governor’s road map, employees will need to be trained specifically on how limit the spread of COVID-19 as well as how to identify possible symptoms of the virus. More training requirements may be added as the state rolls out their industry-specific guidelines.

6. Bring Back Furloughed and Laid-Off Employees Where Possible
Employers who had to furlough or lay off employees due to lack of funds or work should begin communicating with those employees about reopening if they haven’t already. For employers who received Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) approval, bringing their payroll count back to where it was pre-pandemic is a crucial factor in getting some or all of the loan forgiven.

7. Ensure PPE Policies Do Not Create Liabilities
In many industries, employees will be required to wear Personal Protective Equipment, especially in customer-facing positions. Per wage and hour laws, employees must be paid for all work-related activities, including things like security bag checks and putting on protective equipment. If employees have to put PPE on prior to entering the worksite, that time should be reflected in their pay to avoid a wage and hour lawsuit.

8. Allow Some Teleworking Employees to Remain Home
Businesses will still need to observe some distancing guidelines, even in the workplace, to help limit the possibility of spread, likely until the state’s hospitalization and ICU trends stabilize and capacities for hospital, PPE, virus testing and contract tracing are sufficient enough to meet the demands of the population. If employees are successfully performing their job duties from home, they should remain doing so to ensure other employees can maintain reasonable distance in the workplace.

9. Designate a COVID-19 coordinator
COVID-19 will be something that affects individuals and families in a variety of ways for months and possibly years to come. Consider designating a coordinator to help manage any COVID-19 related issues and keep a record of how those issues impact the company.

10. Offer Additional Flexibility Where Needed
After seven weeks of sheltering-in-place and with schools and many childcare facilities still closed, some employees will need to make additional accommodations in order to return to the work site. Employers should look at each individual situation and offer flexibility wherever possible.

It may seem daunting, but it’s more important than ever for small business owners to make sure they are prepared and fully compliant with federal, state and local regulations when they open their doors again to allow employees and customers inside. Please reach out to your HR Consultant for specific guidance when revising policies and procedures in light of COVID-19.

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About Emplicity:
Since 1995, Emplicity has provided a smarter, more secure, and integrated platform of employer services to its 300 business clients and their 8,500 employees. As a Professional Employer Organization, or PEO, the California-based HR outsourcing firm simplifies the compliance, administration, and support businesses need in the areas of employee benefits, payroll, and human resources technology.

NOTICE: Emplicity provides HR advice and recommendations. Information provided by Emplicity is not intended as a substitute for employment law counsel. At no time will Emplicity have the authority or right to make decisions on behalf of its clients.

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