8 Questions Employers Should Ask Before Reopening in the Era of COVID-19
The COVID-19 situation is constantly changing, which means businesses need to stay on top of government decisions. As each provincial government is regularly expanding their list of businesses approved to open, more and more business leaders will be able to start earning revenue again. However, there is also concern for what they need to do to maintain the health and safety of their employees and customers.
From need-to-know regulations to consequences for failing to provide a safe workplace, here are eight questions employers should be asking.
1. Are you allowed to reopen?
The rules and schedules of Canadian provinces to reopen varies. There may be additional restrictions buried in government reopening blueprints. While the guidelines are available for public consumption, there are a number of details that employers should not overlook. Be sure to read the guidelines carefully for approved dates and health and safety measures that must be in place.
2. Are you able to follow the health and safety guidelines?
As an employer, you have an obligation to maintain a safe working environment. You will need to establish new policies and arrangements to keep employees and customers safe.
In Ontario, as an example, the provincial government published clear health and safety guidelines businesses must follow when they reopen. In preparation for reopening, you need to invest time and resources to ensure you are able to open while following proper provincial guidelines. In most cases, the consequences will be costly if you are found to be in violation of the guidelines and you open yourself up to a number of lawsuits from employees who feel like their health and safety has been put in danger or compromised.
3. Is your workplace ready for physical distancing?
Just because the government has approved some businesses to reopen does not mean physical distancing and precautionary measures also stop. In order to keep physical distancing, you may need to explore different options such as a re-arranged layout, renting a larger space, rotating or staggered days or hours when employees are in the office, or maintaining a more long term work from home arrangement. You may need to explore creating more formalized amendments to employee contracts to lay out the new rules and regulations of these policies depending on how long term you intend them to be.
4. How will you provide necessary health and safety communication and training to your employees?
If your employees are not aware of your updated health and safety policies, they don’t know how to implement them, or they simply choose not to follow them, you may unknowingly be in violation of the government mandated guidelines. An inadequate employee communication and training strategy can be costly at a time where you should be focused on reconnecting with customers and the day-to-day business growth.
5. How can you ensure your employees follow the rules?
Your new health and safe policies are not effective unless your employees follow them. As part of your reopening strategy, setting clear guidelines and consequences for your employees to follow is essential. To ensure the new policies are followed, consider drafting an employee agreement that each employee will sign before returning to work that lays out the new guidelines and their commitment to following them. It is important that all employees remain accountable for their own actions.
6. Do you have enough Personal Protection Equipment in stock to reopen?
Depending on the type of business you operate, you may need to provide Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for your employees. PPE can be expensive and difficult to procure during this time. Not having enough PPE for your employees can lead to unsafe working conditions. Your employees may simply refuse to work, leading to the closure of your business again. Worse, you may face closure and legal consequences.
7. What are the consequences if a customer or an employee gets sick?
Before opening your business, it is prudent to conduct a risk analysis to assess your exposure if someone gets sick. Because there is so much uncertainty, there is a risk that even if you have followed the government-mandated guidelines for reopening, some might want to hold you accountable. As an employer, you could face consequences issued by government agencies, forced closure, wrongful death lawsuits, and in a worst-case scenario similar to what happened at Residence Herron in Quebec, it could lead to a criminal investigation. Outside of legal consequences, it could also be a public relations nightmare, and your reputation could be damaged beyond repair.
8. What are the emergency plans if someone gets sick?
Like it or not, there is always going to be the possibility that an employee may get sick, or worse, die from COVID-19. You will have a narrow window to manage the situation before it becomes an unmanageable crisis. Preparing for such a situation as an employer is important during times like these. It prevents reactional decision-making that may not be in your best interest as an employer and put your employees at further risk. Things to consider are which government agencies should you call, who are the experts and people you can rely on and consult with, can the business continue to operate, how will it affect your other employees – both emotionally and physically, should you start a media campaign to mitigate the reputational damages, and how and when should you notify your customers and other employees.
If you have questions about how to navigate the changing employment laws during COVID-19, Hum Law can advise how to manage your employee contracts while protecting both employers and employees. Contact us today. To reach us by phone call (416)214-2329.