Guide to Reopening Businesses Post-Pandemic

As the shelter-at-home (SAH) orders for many states expire this week, companies across the country are starting to think about how and under what circumstances they will reopen.  While it is early in the process, some themes have emerged:

Opening will be slower than closing.  Much of the country shut down during a two-week period.  In contrast, we know that the expiration of SAH orders will start this week, but may go on through as late as the end of May under current orders.  In addition, the state closing orders closed non-essential businesses rapidly, often with just a few days’ notice.  The re-opening orders so far are not as dramatic in effect, both because many of them start with a handful of businesses and because we will have quite a lot of lead time to understand them.  Thus, re-opening is likely to proceed in phases based on where a company is located and what industry it is in (to say nothing of customer demand and supply chain issues that may be slow to improve).

Some restrictions are likely to remain in place.  Although SAH orders are unlikely to survive re-opening orders, it is very likely that individuals and businesses will have to accommodate social distancing requirements for several weeks.  This may include limits on the number of occupants for any particular building, or encouragement to offer alternative delivery of goods and services (online, curbside, delivery, etc.), staggering admissions and shifts, and more.

Health and safety requirements are likely to be complex.  It is extremely likely that any open business will have to provide for increased cleaning and sanitation of the workplace, support for worker hygiene efforts (more supplies, more handwashing or sanitation locations), signage for employees and customers about required and suggested measures, and PPE such as masks for workers and potentially for customers.  In addition, there is a good chance that state orders will either require or permit health assessments of workers, including temperature screening.

You will decide when to open.  Unlike the closure orders, which in most cases were mandatory for non-essential businesses, it is likely that re-opening orders will not require any private business to resume operations.  Instead, business owners will have to decide what is the right time for them to begin work, to open to the public, to bring back a full workforce, and more.  To that end, here is a list of some common matters to consider as a best practice when deciding how to re-start your business.

Best Practices.

  • Consult the state order or other applicable rules for your jurisdiction and your business.
  • Know what you must do to protect worker health.
  • Know what you may do to protect customer and worker health.
  • Understand whether you are required to assess employee health in any fashion.
  • Discuss reopening with your insurance agent and your lawyer, to be sure you understand the rules that apply to you and that you have adequate coverage to defend any customer or employee claims about infection from your premises.
  • Make appropriate physical arrangements, including sign printing, purchase of cleaning and hygiene supplies, reconfiguring spaces to permit / require distance between employees and between patrons, and acquisition of PPE.
  • Consider whether customers should sign a waiver before you are willing to serve them, or whether you should post notices or disclaimers regarding your virus-mitigation measures.
  • Establish alternate means to serve customers, as applicable.
  • Plan work schedules and shifts in accordance with any rules for your industry or your location: do you need to accommodate staggered shifts? Special shopping hours?  Limited headcount on your premises?
  • Assess whether your workforce is all subject to the same SAH orders: if you have employees in different states, they may not all be free to travel to work starting on the same date.
  • Likewise, understand that work locations in different states may have different operating requirements even when they are permitted to open.
  • Plan now for a second wave of infections: with or without an accompanying shut-down, the current guidance from health experts suggests that some recurrence of “coronavirus season” is likely later this year or early next.
  • Keep detailed records on wages, rent and mortgage, utilities, and other expenditures you are paying for with loans or grants, along with any sick or family leave paid, unemployment insurance premiums, and tax credits/deferrals you claimed.

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