restaurant worker washing hands
From sanitary practices to expanded sick leave, companies are offering additional safety methods to employees for whom remote work is not an option. — Getty Images/jacoblund

Businesses across the U.S. and the world have swiftly changed their policies to deal with the coronavirus crisis, with major corporations including Google, Facebook and Microsoft recommending or mandating remote work. While these actions have garnered many headlines, less digital ink has been spilled about the many employees who can’t work from home.

In industries such as retail, restaurants and manufacturing, workers don’t have the luxury of performing their duties from home. Small and medium-sized businesses in this position instead need to manage expectations and develop new strategies to protect both their employees and customers from COVID-19.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has created a Coronavirus Response Toolkit that includes CDC recommendations and sharable graphics for businesses and employees to help keep people safe. These graphics can be shared on social media, websites, and more. But there are other things business owners can do to manage critical employees during this important time.

Here are five ways some companies are managing coronavirus concerns for employees who can’t remotely work. Some of these ideas may be adopted or adapted by small businesses, too.

Update and enforce sanitary health practices

Many companies are making it a priority to first enforce basic hygiene standards to prevent germs from spreading.

Companies are following CDC guidelines for employees, which include mandating that workers wash their hands for 20 seconds frequently, cover their nose and mouth with their inner elbow when sneezing or coughing, no touching faces and sanitizing surfaces often with EPA-approved disinfectants.

On top of this, businesses are offering hand sanitizer (if they can obtain it) around the workplace for employees and customers to use if hand washing is not immediately available.

Encourage social distancing

Some employers are implementing new rules involving social distancing. Effectively, this means that employees and customers need to avoid handshakes, hugs and all close social contact. Instead, use elbow bumps, small bows, or waves in order to have employees acknowledge each other or customers — or maybe even jazz hands if you want to bring a little humor to what feels like a strange situation.

In some cases, social distancing may also include limiting travel if that is in some way part of work. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has recommended that anyone elderly and vulnerable to coronavirus especially needs to cut down on travel to protect themselves.

The coronavirus crisis has pushed many companies with employees who can’t work from home to expand sick leave.

Coronavirus Guide for Small Businesses

CO— is working to bring you the best resources and information to help you navigate this challenging time. Read on for our complete coronavirus coverage.



Expand sick leave

The coronavirus crisis has pushed many companies with employees who can’t work from home to expand sick leave. Corporations including Walmart, Olive Garden parent Darden Restaurants and others have created new sick leave rules to help stop the spread of coronavirus between employees and between employees and customers.

For example, Walmart — the nation’s largest private employer with 1.5 million workers — created an “emergency employee leave program” that was spurred by one of its associates in Kentucky testing positive for COVID-19.

Small businesses, however, do not have the same financial cushion that a company like Walmart has to provide sick leave. Other options could be explored for small businesses who can’t afford it. Business owners can talk frankly and openly with employees about sick leave to create set expectations.

Communicate with customers

With coronavirus concerns high, this is an ideal time to communicate with customers about what you're doing to keep your business clean, to keep your employees healthy, any hours-of-operation changes and more.

One business communicating frequently with customers is Amtrak, which notified customers about its new enhanced cleaning protocols and other policy changes via email.

Social media also offers a wealth of information on communicating with employees during these uneasy times. One helpful resource for customer communication is Facebook’s Business Resource Hub, which has guides and tools for customer support and engagement during the coronavirus crisis.

Close and clean if exposure happens

If a worker has been exposed to the coronavirus or confirmed to have it, the next expected move for businesses is to close for at least a day and give the facility a thorough cleaning.

For example, a Seattle-based Starbucks location that had an employee test positive for COVID-19 recently closed its doors temporarily in order to perform “a deep clean overnight.”

For more resources from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce:

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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Published March 12, 2020