COVID-19 UPDATE from Bellas & Wachowski

How Can Your Business Reopen Safely—On All Fronts?

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Small Businesses Reopening

As of today June 26, Illinois has reached Stage 4 of coronavirus reopening, which allows essentially all types of businesses to reopen provided they observe public health safety guidance and capacity limits, with no more than 50 people allowed in one place.

What does this mean for businesses, and how can they protect themselves—and their employees and customers—medically, financially and legally?

Health Considerations

First and foremost, businesses should be concerned with the health of their employees and customers. They should have a plan in place that outlines appropriate policies and should be ready for a conversation with any employee voicing concerns about returning to work, especially if they have an underlying condition that provides legal leverage for accommodations. This positively impacts both employees and their morale.

Among the policies in place should be one that focuses specifically on efforts to protect employees, customers and vendors from COVID-19. Drawing from both general and industry-specific guidance from OSHA and state or local authorities, businesses should lay out—and be prepared to insist upon—safety protocol standards for social distancing, hand washing, face coverings and the like.

Finances

Businesses that have faced financial hardship and have not done so already should consider applying for the stimulus programs and special loan funds created by the federal government, as well as some states, municipalities and private foundations.

To ensure stability, businesses should review the services and materials needed for continued operations, and touch base with vendors to ensure that the supply chain will keep flowing. Those who sell business-to-business should reach out to customers to see how they are holding up, and what support they might need.

Also on the financial front, businesses should look at whether insurance policies continue to best serve their interests during the pandemic. If you are going to allow employees to work remotely or make other changes to your business model, does your insurance comport with those? Meet with your agent and update as needed.

And on the vendor front, make sure that standard operating procedures and contract terms continue to make sense during a pandemic—and see whether you need to tweak certain provisions, such as those governing supply chain disruptions or force majeure clauses.

Legal and Regulatory Issues

Finally, businesses need to familiarize themselves with a slew of laws and regulations related to COVID-19. Perhaps foremost among these is the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which says that businesses with fewer than 500 employees are required to provide leave—in some cases, paid leave—for employees that face a number of COVID-19-related hardships. Employers must post notice of employee rights under this act.

On another front, make sure you are keeping abreast of federal and state “best practices” guidelines to keep workplace safety compliant. These have been changing as public health authorities better understand how COVID-19 spreads—and how it doesn’t. Businesses also should review employee policies and privacy regulations to ensure they remain relevant with changes in regulations and workplace conditions.

Overall, the pandemic creates uncertainty and stress but also provides opportunities if businesses keep on top of the relevant medical, financial and legal issues.