Managing Risk and Liability in Uncertain Times
These are historic and uncertain times, make no mistake about it. The COVID-19 pandemic is completely altering the way the majority of Americans are living their lives. Whether they are deemed essential employees and still going to work, or they are staying at home working their way through everything Netflix has to offer, their lives have been impacted. This means a profound change in priorities and how time and money within the household is being spent.
It doesn’t take much to realize that the pandemic is also to impact the way your business is run, now and into the future. First, there are very real health risks posed to both your employees and the public by staying open for business. Second, there is the equally troubling risk of keeping the bills paid and enough money in the bank to bounce back after this is over. As a small business owner, this can be a particularly tough line to walk.
Making the decision to stay at least partially open or shut the doors for the next month is not an easy one to be taken lightly. Depending upon your area, how much you’re allowed to be open could be dictated by precautions that have been implemented by your state. Otherwise, it may come down to your and your employees’ comfort levels with the situation.
Below are some things to consider to manage the risks prior to making your decision.
Choosing to Send People Home
There is no shame in choosing to close the doors and send employees home for the duration of the outbreak. A number of public health officials recommend doing that even if your state isn’t currently requiring it. Healthcare needs are complex in a world where people’s needs and risk assessments widely vary.
Without cohesive government direction, health officials can be left in the lurch and may not be ready for the wave of new cases that come flooding through their doors. In this scenario, doing your part to keep your employees from exposure can be a very important thing for your community. The more people interacting with each other, be it at your business or elsewhere, the more likely the virus will not be under control for long. The small business issues associated with the virus may become worse if things cannot be contained quickly.
This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to completely close. For some businesses, telework is a viable option if the right steps are taken to help your company and its employees get set up to do so productively. A lot of companies are doing what they can to keep things moving by taking this route, and even federal workers are being directed to work from home as much as possible. This isn’t always an option for some businesses or employees including grocery store cashiers, delivery drivers, mechanics, and numerous others.
Choosing to Stay Open
The inability for employees to telework in businesses that are deemed essential has led to quite a few businesses being open at least partially during the stay-at-home orders in many states. These employees are on the front lines of the pandemic and are risking themselves and their families just to do their job every day. That isn’t something to take lightly. As an employer who is staying open during the pandemic, you should do everything you can to keep your employees safe:
- Providing hand sanitizer and enforcing other sanitation standards including frequent hand washing.
- Providing masks, gloves, and other protective equipment for employees who are interacting directly with customers so they can limit their risk as much as possible
- Sending employees that experience ANY symptoms of illness home
- Doing what you can to cover sick leave and time off for employees who do come down with an illness contracted from work
- Being empathetic to changing home situations such as the kids being out of school, trying to work with varying schedules as much as possible
This won’t always be easy and there are certainly some difficult decisions ahead. For instance, is it better to lay people off and keep a couple working full time, or is it better to limit everyone’s hours but keep everyone on the payroll? Either way, this can be an opportunity to cross-train a lot of employees in a variety of different tasks, which can help them improve their resumes as well as boost your productivity once things do go back to normal.
The fact of the matter is that the government is working to help lessen the blow that small businesses are experiencing during the pandemic. This doesn’t mean help will come quickly or that it will come in the form most useful to your company. No bills or stimulus packages are perfect for everyone, but there are a few things that you and your employees can probably expect and take advantage of.
One big thing that is likely to help your employees during this difficult time, whether they are working or not, is a cash payment from the US government. This isn’t exactly a universal basic income that some economists argue would boost our economy, but it can stave off a number of financial woes. That, along with freezing federal student loan interest for six months and trying to implement freezes in mortgage and rent payments as well as evictions, is aimed at lowering the financial hardships and challenges that face a population that suddenly finds itself without work.
The stimulus package is also aiming to help small businesses get through and recover from the economic downturn that has arisen from the COVID-19 pandemic. If they meet certain criteria, small businesses across the US will have access to almost $350 billion in forgivable loans. Additional help includes tax credits for businesses that keep employees on their payroll, an expansion of unemployment insurance for self-employed people, and a delay in employer payroll taxes for Social Security.
These certainly aren’t easy times for anyone, whether you are the CEO of a company, trying to keep a small business open, or an employee trying to make ends meet. As the owner of a company, a lot of important decisions fall upon you, especially when it comes to determining if and when your employees will stay home or continue coming to work. Government aid is coming and that will hopefully help ease some of the economic difficulties being faced by everyone.