May 13, 2020
As many states begin to relax COVID-19 restrictions for certain businesses, you might be concerned about maintaining the health and safety of your employees and customers as you prepare to reopen. How can you best manage this transition back to the workplace?
It’s uncertain when there will be a return to “business as usual,” but by following advice from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), you can help protect employees and customers when you reopen your doors.
Below are some guidelines for reopening your business, including:
- Can your business reopen? Check state and local reopening rules.
- Maintain a healthy workplace for employees and customers
- Establish and enforce social distancing policies
- Be vigilant with your practices and continue to monitor the situation
Can your business reopen? Check state and local reopening rules.
First, find out if and when your specific type of business is allowed to open back up. Since COVID-19 reopening orders vary by region, state, county and even city, you’ll want to closely monitor news from local health officials, in addition to other state and local authorities to stay up to date on any developments.
Many states have outlined plans to reopen businesses in phases to contain the spread of the virus. Some states, for example, are requiring businesses to limit how many customers can be in a store or restaurant at one time. Certain types of businesses (e.g., movie theaters, salons, gyms) may be allowed to open back up in one city or county, but not in another.
Be aware of these guidelines before deciding to turn on the lights at your business — especially if you have multiple locations across cities or states.
Maintain a healthy workplace for employees and customers
If your business has been temporarily closed or affected by restrictions due to COVID-19, the transition likely won’t be as simple as reopening your doors to welcome back employees and customers.
Here are a few steps you can take to ensure your workplace is as clean and hygienic as possible to minimize the risk of spreading COVID-19.
How to clean and disinfect for reopening
Surfaces and objects that aren’t frequently touched can be cleaned with just soap and water, says the CDC. For example, outdoor areas and workplaces that have been unoccupied for seven or more days only need a routine cleaning.
However, anything that multiple people touch often should also be disinfected after a routine cleaning. Some examples of objects and frequently touched surfaces that require routine disinfection (even after reopening) include: desks, cash registers, shelves, displays, countertops, doorknobs, tables, light switches, phones, keyboards, faucets and sinks, toilets and push bars on doors.
The CDC recommends using the following method for disinfection when reopening your business to reduce the risk of COVID-19 exposure and spread:
- Prior to disinfection, clean visibly dirty surfaces and objects with soap and water.
- Disinfect with a product on the EPA’s list of products that are effective against COVID-19, following the directions on the label. Consider the type of surface (e.g., glass, metal, plastic, fabric) in choosing the right disinfectant.
- If an EPA-approved disinfectant is unavailable, use a solution of 70% alcohol, or one-third of a cup of bleach added to 1 gallon of water.
Other helpful resources:
- Reopening Guidance for Cleaning and Disinfecting Public Spaces, Workplaces, Businesses, Schools, and Homes
- Cleaning and Disinfecting Your Facility (CDC)
Reduce contact and sharing frequently-touched items
OSHA recommends discouraging employees from sharing phones, desks, office supplies and other items. Encourage employees to keep their distance from coworkers’ workstations, and consider removing self-service coffee stations in break rooms and other communal areas.
If customers are making payments at your business location, use contactless payment options whenever possible. Otherwise, the CDC recommends using wipeable covers for credit card terminals, tablets and touch screens so employees can clean them with alcohol-based wipes or sprays between each customer. You can also adopt a policy of exchanging cash or card payments via a tray or counter instead of hand-to-hand contact.
Restaurants should consider avoiding self-serve-style operations (e.g., buffets, salad bars, drink stations), and provide disposable menus and single-use condiments to limit sharing items among guests.
Encourage and support healthy behaviors in the workplace
In addition to cleaning, disinfecting and adopting new policies to limit the sharing of items, there are other things you can do to minimize the risk and spread of disease in your workplace.
Here are a few ideas to help your employees stay safe, healthy and informed when reopening:
- Offer plenty of ways to sanitize: Make your employees and customers feel safe by providing access to soap and running water, tissues and no-touch trash cans. Place alcohol-based hand sanitizers and wipes at the entrance, near bathrooms and in multiple other locations.
- Promote healthy hygiene: Post educational signs in bathrooms, at entrances and around other high-traffic areas to remind employees and customers to wash their hands regularly, practice good cough and sneeze etiquette and avoid touching their face. The CDC has printable posters you can use in your workplace.
- Allow employees to wear cloth face masks: OSHA and the CDC recommend that employees wear cloth masks that cover their nose and mouth when in close proximity to customers and coworkers. Consider supplying face masks or asking employees to wear their own DIY cloth face coverings inside the workplace.
- Remind employees to stay home if they’re sick: Create flexible, non-punitive time off policies to encourage workers to stay home if they have symptoms of illness (e.g., fever, cough or shortness of breath). The CDC recommends that employers not require a positive COVID-19 test result or a doctor’s note for employees to qualify for sick leave.
Establish and enforce social distancing policies
Since the virus is thought to be spread mainly from person to person, the more employees you welcome back, the higher the risk. Here are some ways you can increase physical distance and reduce interactions between employees.
Offer flexible schedules and remote work
The CDC recommends continuing to support and encourage options to work at home or remotely.
If remote work isn’t possible for your business, reopen with limited capacity that still allows for social distancing. Try adjusting employee schedules to spread out when people work by implementing split shifts, alternating days, staggering start times or having employees return to work in phases instead of all at once. OSHA even suggests assigning the same employees to the same shifts to further reduce the spread of workplace COVID-19 transmission.
Modify workspaces and public-facing areas to maximize social distancing
Give your employees some space by coming up with creative ways to maintain six feet (or more) of distance between employees and customers.
Take into consideration your business type and location to accommodate local, state and federal requirements. Gyms in Arkansas, for example, must rearrange equipment to allow for a 12-foot distance between individuals working out, while in Missouri, restaurants are allowed to open dining rooms as long as tables and seating areas are spaced at least six feet apart, with no more than 10 people at a single table.
Businesses like retail shops can try opening up every other cash register or moving credit card readers farther away from the cashier to aid in distancing. For businesses in traditional office spaces, rearrange desks or workstations to put more distance between employees.
Other ideas include restricting the number of people allowed in communal areas like meeting rooms and break rooms, and treating stairwells and hallways as “one-way streets” to prevent employees from walking past each other.
Minimize interactions between employees and customers
OSHA recommends eliminating unnecessary interactions with the public to reduce the risk of exposure to the coronavirus. While this can be difficult if your employees regularly interact with customers, there are a few ways you can increase the physical distance between them:
- Restrict the number of customers inside your business: For example, all retail stores, restaurants, movie theaters and malls in Texas have been allowed to reopen, but only at a 25% occupancy limit.
- Encourage to-go, curbside and delivery options: Consider new ways to deliver your products or services — especially if you’re limiting the number of customers inside your business. OSHA recommends that retail stores, for example, use drive-thru windows or curbside pickup to limit physical contact with customers.
- Keep customers safe with the “six feet of distance” rule: Post signs to remind customers waiting in line to practice social distancing. Try using floor tape in areas where lines may form to indicate to customers where they should stand to stay six feet apart.
- Install physical barriers: OSHA advises installing clear plastic sneeze guards or plexiglass partitions at cash registers, food pickup areas or other places where maintaining a physical distance of six feet is difficult.
- Switch up job duties for vulnerable workers: Offer alternate duties to employees who may be at higher risk for severe illness to minimize their contact with customers and other employees (e.g., restocking shelves instead of working as a cashier).
Be vigilant with your practices and continue to monitor the situation
Beyond encouraging employees to self-monitor for the signs and symptoms of COVID-19, consider implementing some additional strategies to prepare your business for other unknowns:
- Determine how you’ll operate if you experience higher-than-usual absenteeism.
- Establish an action plan for what to do if an employee tests positive.
- Invite employees to openly and honestly share their needs and feelings.
- Create and test emergency alert systems for employees.
- Be prepared to close again if COVID-19 resurges in your community.
The CDC also suggests daily health checks (e.g., temperature and symptom screening) as an optional strategy for employers to monitor for illness. Tennessee, for example, requires restaurants to screen guests for illness upon entry, including onsite temperature checks for every customer and employee.
If your workplace has been temporarily closed due to COVID-19, these guidelines from OSHA and the CDC can help you create a reopening plan that takes into account the health and safety of your employees, customers and visitors.
By staying vigilant with your practices of cleaning and disinfecting, social distancing and illness monitoring, you can help protect your employees and customers.