Reopening for success: 6 things for business owners to remember
After a year of hardships, the owners of Washington’s small businesses may now feel as though they see the light at the end of the tunnel. However, as they look forward to opening their businesses more fully, owners cannot afford to overlook the details that might bite them later.
Returning to the workplace
In mid-March, the governor’s office announced that the Healthy Washington – Roadmap to Recovery plan would switch from a regional focus to a county-by-county focus. By mid-April, all but three counties had advanced to Phase 3 of the recovery plan.
This means that more businesses can open at greater capacity. Restaurants and stores can serve more customers. Professional businesses can allow more workers back in the office. But it’s important to remember these changes still come with limits. You want to make sure you develop solid plans for expanding your available space or workforce. You also need to match those plans for growth with plans for protecting your employees’ health and safety:
- Maintain separation
- Provide protective equipment
- Screen for illness
- Send sick workers home
- Sanitize surfaces
- Post signs requiring masks
Masks and vaccinations
Few issues have seen as much politicization over the past year as mask use and vaccination. Nonetheless, business owners would do well to focus on the legal issues at play. You should understand both the rules and the exceptions.
Some of the important rules for mask use include:
- Employers must provide masks for their employees at no cost
- Masks are required for every worker not working alone on the job site (with a few exceptions)
- Mask exceptions may be granted for reasons related to health, circumstances or disabilities
- Employees requesting health exceptions should provide medical verification
As more people gain access to vaccinations, you also want to understand how vaccinations may affect your business. Employers are allowed to incentivize employees to get a vaccine.
However, the EEOC has clarified that only “de minimus”, or relatively insignificant incentives should be given. Anything more than de minimus incentives, could be construed as penalizing employees for opting out of a vaccine, and impeding on religious and/or ADA rights.
Accommodating special cases.
Business owners must provide “reasonable accommodations” for employees with special considerations. These may include older employees, employees with disabilities and/or religious limitations, as well as those who get pregnant or have other medical conditions.
Employees that may have special considerations are generally afforded “reasonable accommodations” from their employers. However, what is reasonable to you as a business owner may be up for interpretation. While employees are protected from discrimination, business owners too are protected from undue hardship.
Sick time and family leave
Business owners may want as much as anyone to see public health improve, but you need to plan for sickness. As it has for the past year, this means more than simply accommodating an employee’s sick time. You must also consider:
- The sick leave your employees may claim if your business closes due to health reasons
- Employees whose children can no longer go to school or day care
- Employees whose children must attend school remotely due to health reasons
- Time spent on testing, diagnosis and medical prevention
Federal, state or locally mandated sick leave rules have changed in the past year, especially as it relates to the pandemic. Business owners should be vigilant about ensuring that they understand and are compliant with the new regulations.
Updating company policies
Due to all the changes that business owners have had to implement over the past year, it’s possible that your current situation no longer reflects your printed policies. As you look forward to reaching a new normal and moving forward, it’s a good idea to update your policies and employee handbook to reflect your current and future situations. Updates may also help you stay out of trouble, as they can show the efforts you made over time to comply with all the new rules.
If you have questions regarding return to work, policy updates or compliance, Jensen Milner | Cap City Law is ready and available to work with you to ensure you have all of the necessary information to make sure your business is protected – and compliant. Give us a call at (360) 705-1335 or simply submit your inquiry through the Contact Us page of our website for assistance.