3 Tips for Handling A Pandemic As A Small Business Owner

This week we have the first confirmed cases of the coronavirus (COVID-19) in New York State. With it coming closer to home, here are some considerations for handling coronavirus in the workplace. 

1 – Get Your Policies In Order

From a policy perspective, a quick reminder about New York’s Paid Family Leave act. In place since 2016, this provides for the paid leave of New York employees to care for family members who are ill. In 2020, employees can take up to 10 weeks of leave at 60% of their average weekly wage (capped at the state average weekly wage of $840.70), and are required to be reinstated to the same or a comparable position upon their return from the leave. As an employer, you will have 3 business days’ in which to return Part B of any employee’s request for paid family leave. This is the section that provides information on their gross salary. Otherwise, you can simply direct the employee to the insurance company for handling of the claim, processing, payment and the like. 

All companies should have a sick leave policy as well. NYS does not require paid sick leave for employees, but NYC does require employers (with employees who work 80 or more hours per year in NYC) to provide 40 hours per year of either paid or unpaid sick leave. The sick leave must be paid if the employer has 5 or more employees meeting the work criteria in NYC; unpaid if the employer only has 1-4 employees. Under the NYC law, employees can use the time to care for themselves or family members. 

Note, while NYS does not require paid sick leave, if your business has a paid time off or a sick leave policy, be sure to follow it in all instances. New York State does require that you communicate your sick leave policy in writing to your employees, otherwise, your business can be subject to fines and penalties, as well as have any oral policy communicated to employees enforced against you. This applies whether your sick leave is paid or unpaid.  

Another consideration during a time of pandemic is a work-from-home policy. To the extent that you are able to have employees be remote, this can be an effective way of maintaining your business operations without endangering the health or safety of your workforce or clients. I’ve written prior articles on the importance of having a business continuity plan in case of casualty loss to the business (e.g., hurricane, fire, water) and it applies equally in this instance. 

In crafting a work-from-home policy, be sure to consider cybersecurity and confidentiality issues. No matter where your employees are located, you have requirements to safeguard financial information of customers, as well as a great interest in protecting your own information. In addition, you should consider the potential exposure to other state’s laws for employees. For example, if you permit an employee to work from home (and the amount of time varies by jurisdiction) in New Jersey or Connecticut, you may be exposing your business to rules applicable to NJ- or CT-based employees. 

2 – Craft A Business Continuity Plan

If you haven’t already, now is the time to create a business continuity plan. You should have one in general because life happens. As a small business owner, the likelihood is that your family’s primary income source is the business, and you need to protect it at all costs. 

What you don’t want is a panicked workforce or customer base to drive your decision-making. Now, while you have time, you can plan for a worst-case scenario. What resources will you need? How will they become available to you? What will be the trigger event? How long will you be able to operate in this manner?

3 – Implement Smart Rules In The Workplace

In the meanwhile, implement smart rules in the workplace to minimize the risk of exposure to you, your employees and your customers. Here are a few:

  • Avoid shaking hands; instead greet people with a warm smile and greeting.
  • Practice good hand hygiene – wash in warm water often and properly. Provide hand sanitizers for visitors to the office.
  • Keep your environment clean, use products that kill viruses on surfaces and don’t forget your keyboard, phone, light switches and door knobs!
  • If you sneeze or cough, do so into the crook of your elbow, facing away from others.
  • Send symptomatic personnel home. Everyone will be grateful you did.
  • Encourage virtual meetings with clients and suppliers. Not only might you prevent the spread of the virus, you can help the environment.

Fortunately, it appears that the virus is reasonably mild in 80% of those exposed. However, it is still dangerous for those who are older or those with underlying medical conditions. Implementing smart rules not only protects our workforce, but it helps protect those who need additional safeguards.

Conclusion

Being an employer is difficult work, especially during times of public health concerns. If you need assistance creating or implementing any of these policies, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us at LOVE LAW FIRM. We can help you put items in place quickly and navigate through uncertain waters. Call us at 516.697.4828 or email [email protected] to learn more.

Francine E. Love is the Founder & Managing Attorney at LOVE LAW FIRM, PLLC which dedicates its practice to serving businesses and entrepreneurs. The opinions expressed are those of the author. This article is for general information purposes and is not intended to be and should not be taken as legal advice. To learn more about LOVE LAW FIRM please see our website, www.lovelawfirmpllc.com.