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At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic – short of worrying about face masks and toilet paper – the number one question on the minds of many is: when can I safely return to work?

COVID has brought unexpected challenges for all of us, including a prolonged period of store closures, job suspensions, and social distancing. If you are the proprietor of a small business, you’ve likely already explored when you might reopen your establishment. Some states have already tentatively reopened all of their businesses, and other states are pushing to follow suit.

What does all of this mean for your business?

It means, hopefully, that you’ll be able to open your doors again soon. However, when you do, one of the most important steps you’ll take is ensuring that your staff is aligned with the health and safety guidelines of the CDC, in addition to complying with your personal health expectations for your establishment.

How to Safely Bring Employees Back to Work After COVID-19

1. Communicate with Your Staff

The first thing you’ll need to do is share your tentative plan to reopen with your employees. Before assigning shifts, you should assess your employee’s morale to see if they’re ready and confident to return back to work. If some of your employees have a low morale, consider giving them extra time before they go back to work and support them in any way you can. For your employees that have high morale and and eager to return to work, be sure to communicate the following:

  • The number of employees per shift will be more limited than before the pandemic
  • Only completely healthy staff will be permitted to return to work
  • Before returning to work, employees should continue practicing social distancing to the greatest extent possible, and continue to wear masks and protective gloves if they must go out in public.

Taking these precautionary measures when bringing workers back after COVID will increase the likelihood of safely and effectively reopening your business for the long haul. Your returning employees will also feel more confident that you’re taking the necessary steps to ensure their health and safety. Keeping in touch with your staff using an efficient communication app can help minimize any misunderstandings or miscommunications as you reopen your business.

2. Only Allow Healthy Employees to Work

Whether you’re in retail, the restaurant industry, or own a gym, salon, or spa, it is absolutely imperative that your employees are 100% healthy when they return to work.

Gone are the days when a sick employee could show up to work with a runny nose and pop some cough drops as a cure-all. If you want customers to come back to your establishment and feel comfortable, there is no compromising on this issue. Do not take the risk.

It’s recommended that you:

  • Call or text all employees prior to their shifts to remind them that they should feel 100% well before coming to work
  • Have employees voluntarily check their temperature before returning to work
  • Have all employees returning to work come in an hour early to help you clean and prepare for customers. You can assess during this time if any of your staff are coughing, or appear to be symptomatic. Send such employees home immediately, and disinfect surfaces thoroughly
  • Support your staff by reminding them that you care about their health, and the health of your customers. Even more preferable is if you can assure that your employees won’t be fired for missing work due to illness
  • If any of your employees report that they’re sick with a cough, labored breathing, and/or high fever, strongly urge them to take a COVID test. Many tests are now available for free at local pharmacies, and take only half an hour to process results.

3. Protect Your Employees & Customers

When bringing employees back after COVID, there are several steps you can take to better protect the health of your staff and customers. Aside from confirming that your employees are completely healthy:

  • Wipe down any and all frequently-touched surfaces (see step 4)
  • Frequently clean your restroom with powerful disinfectant (several times per shift)
  • Space all stations – tables, salon counters, treadmills, etc. – at least six feet apart from each other (or farther, if possible)
  • Limit your staff to as few employees per shift as possible
  • Limit your customer capacity (see step 5)
  • Have all employees – and customers, if possible – wear protective masks and gloves. In some states, it may even be the law.
  • Open windows and doors to keep fresh air circulating throughout your establishment.

Taking these precautionary measures will greatly hinder the spread of Coronavirus and other germs.

4. Regularly Disinfect High-Traffic Surfaces

It’s extremely important that all regularly-touched surfaces are also regularly sanitized. At a minimum, high-traffic surfaces such as door handles, phones, counters, etc. should be carefully cleaned with disinfectant. Appoint one employee per hour to tackle the task of disinfecting, and ensure they do a thorough job.

Keeping a few bottles of hand sanitizer available throughout your store or restaurant will also greatly assist in reducing the spread of harmful germs. It’s recommended that all staff members sanitize their hands after each customer interaction, or when removing protective gloves. Scrubbing hands with soap and hot water for at least twenty seconds is even more effective. The Centers for Disease Control states that washing your hands reduces respiratory illnesses, like COVID-19, in the general population by 16-21%

5. Limit Your Business’s Capacity

Whether limiting store capacity is temporarily mandated by your state or not, it’s a good idea to limit your business’s capacity when re-opening after COVID. Doing so will inhibit close contact with personnel and customers, and provide enough room for everyone in your establishment to feel safe and comfortable during their work or customer experience.

Some stores, such as grocery stores, have set their capacity to one person per 120 square feet. While allowing this kind of space in your own establishment may not be feasible, take some time to calculate the maximum number of people you can safely accommodate during these uncertain times. Remember: when in doubt, each person should have at least six feet of space between themselves and the next individual. This includes staff and customers.

While you may be more than ready for your business to resume normal operations, re-opening and bringing employees back after COVID will come with its share of challenges. The goal is to ensure that your employees and customers remain healthy, and avoid spreading COVID to others.

Always make sure that you’re following official government and CDC guidelines to better protect the safety of the general public.

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