Reopening Small Business: It Won’t Be Business as Usual

by Roseann Freitas | May 5, 2020 1:59:03 PM

Do you remember the saying April showers bring May flowers?
The saying can apply to businesses as well. With all but essential firms shut
down in April, the month of May brings new life gradually to the economy. It
won’t be business as usual, and as businesses clamor to reignite their
operations and the economy, many HR and operations pros says it all starts with
employees.

Before reopening, a plan needs to be in place. Judy Bishop, owner
and president of staffing firm Bishop & Company, says, “Business leaders
will need to prepare the workplace, have empathy, and provide accommodations
for workers.”

For employees and customers to return, they need to feel physically
safe in the space. The plan should include social distancing and personal
protective equipment (PPE)  requirements
based on guidelines from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
PPE requirements depend on the type of business and are paid for by the
employer. Communication of the safety steps to all parties and enforcement of
requirements is vital.

Even with a safety plan, fear of COVID19 can deter employees
from returning. While the term “unprecedented” fills feeds and news stories, it
has a rightful place. And unprecedented or new situations often beget fear.

For employees who are scared to return to your office, can
you consider accommodate to mitigate the fear? Can remote-work schedules
continue? Can flexible or modified schedules reduce the number of people in the
building at one time?  Answering fear
with creativity and real-world, tangible answers may foster confidence, but
remember: Thoughtful plans take time, so advanced planning is required.

Some employees will not return to work for other reasons.

“Employees who felt their employer mistreated them during
the pandemic will be reluctant to return and will seek other employment,”
Bishop said. “For those employees who wanted to leave their company or change
careers, now is the time.”

Usually, unemployment compensation isn’t an incentive to
stay out-of-work; however, with the additional $600/week from the Federal
Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) in the stimulus package, the motivation
often exists. Simply, many employees make more money staying home.

Workers unmotivated to return makes it hard for a company to
reopen, and with the payback forgiveness rules around Payroll Protection
Program (PPP) funds, some employers can feel backed into a corner.

For the PPP money to be forgiven, the company needs to
retain the same number of employees before the shutdown. PPP doesn’t require a
company to hire the same workers, just the same amount of employees. Inform
your former employee that the extra $600 expires on July 25, 2020, and you are
required to notify the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations when
offering an employee re-employment, which will impact their eligibility for
unemployment funds.

If some employees do not return, then it is time to hire. With
all the tasks needed to open the doors, finding time to source new staff is
limited. Before COVID-19, finding a new mid-level employee could take three to
six months, including onboarding, and now as we enter uncharted waters, it
could take longer. Contacting a staffing agency could eliminate the arduous
task of hiring from your to-do list, and may whittle down other time-intensive
logistical tasks like paperwork involved with onboarding a new employee.

Now is the time to work on a safety plan and contact your
employees. When you finally can open the door, having everything in place sets
the tone for the new normal. No, it won’t be business as usual; however, business
as “unusual,” if done thoughtfully and strategically, may just be better.

Resources: OSHA COVID19 Guidelines https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/covid-19/standards.html

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