Be Aware of the Legal and Viral Risks of Reopening Your Business Post COVID-19
Businesses are beginning to consider reopening their doors and starting in-person operations once again. But, before they welcome their employees back with open arms, business owners should consider what a post-COVID-19 working world will look like.
Things will not be the same. Concerns regarding the virus and its lingering effects will remain. Employees want to know that their workplaces are taking steps to remain safe and sanitary. In addition, business owners will be forced to make difficult decisions regarding whether or not to rehire employees who were furloughed and let go. Finally, companies should take steps to protect themselves from potential virus-related lawsuits from both employees and customers.
Take Safety and Sanitation Precautions
The absolute best thing a business can do for its employees and customers is to take deliberate, concrete actions to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and other illnesses in the workplace. These policies should be thoroughly planned and prepared before any doors are reopened.
- Acquire and provide sanitation supplies, such as masks, hand sanitizer, and disinfectant wipes, which can be distributed to employees as they re-transition into the physical workplace. Consider covering COVID-19 testing for your employees if it is within your financial capability to do so.
- Deep clean offices, conference rooms, and other physical spaces to ensure employees are returning to a virus-free workplace.
- Re-arrange desks and chairs to follow social distancing procedures, keeping both employees and visitors six feet apart as much as possible.
- Develop staggered schedules to prevent overcrowding of the office following reopening, starting out by bringing in the most essential employees and gradually reintroducing others as time passes.
- Offer options for continued remote work to employees whose physical presence is not immediately required.
Employees will be much happier and willing to come back to work if they see that their health concerns are being addressed. Additionally, customers will be drawn to clean, sanitary stores, restaurants, and offices.
Make Careful Rehiring Decisions
In an ideal world, every business owner would be able to rehire every employee which they had to let go or furlough due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, we do not live in an ideal world, and many CEOs are going to be tasked with making careful, deliberate decisions regarding who to rehire and who to invite back into the physical workplace.
Most importantly, business owners should thoroughly document the reasoning behind all the rehiring decisions that they make. This avoids, or at least minimizes, the risk of being accused of breaking contracts or called out for discriminatory rehiring practices. A company should be able to prove that these decisions were made fairly.
What constitutes a fair decision? Rehiring employees according to seniority is one option. Another is to clearly define which positions are most essential for in-person operations. For example, a business law firm might prioritize employees who will be most frequently required to make appearances in court.
Employers should be careful not to make protected classes or statuses a part of their decision-making process. The EEOC has expressed concerns that employers will unfairly refuse to hire individuals who might be at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19, such as pregnant women, people over 65, and those with pre-existing health conditions such as asthma or diabetes.
The absolute best thing a business owner can do is to rehire employees using the exact same method of reasoning that was used to furlough them. For example, if less senior employees were furloughed, then rehire the most senior among them first. This demonstrates consistency and logical decision-making that does not take health or infection status into consideration.
Are Reopened Businesses at Risk of Lawsuits?
Several businesses have found themselves sued by either employees or customers who claim to have contracted COVID-19 due to their practices. Most infamously, several Carnival Cruise passengers have sued the luxury cruise line for continuing to sail in March following confirmed onboard cases in February.
As discussed above, businesses should protect themselves by clearly demonstrating that they are avoiding discrimination and making the greatest effort possible to lower the risk of infection. While some companies have pleaded with the government for immunity from COVID-19-related litigation, Congress has not made an official decision on the matter, so it is currently crucial for business owners to prioritize their safety and security.
Calkins Law Firm Can Help
Calkins Law Firm is offering support to business owners in the Buffalo, Cleveland, and Chagrin Falls area. We are working to help businesses re-open smoothly while keeping both themselves and their employees safe and free from mistakes and litigation. More than any other business law firm, Calkins prioritizes a smooth, trouble-free transition into the post-coronavirus world.
Contact Calkins Law Firm and set up an appointment with a business attorney today.