The 2020 election has almost arrived and while all eyes are on the presidential candidates, COVID-19 remains firmly in the forefront. Each candidate has laid out some measure of a COVID-19 recovery plan, however there will not be a one-size fits all solution as we have already seen with the Payment Protection Plan (PPP). Companies that are reopening and those that have remained open throughout the pandemic will have to put together plans to recover in 2021. Protection against the virus will be the top priority and personal protective equipment (PPE) like masks and barriers will be the first line of prevention. Once companies institute these prevention measures they will have to examine how they can enforce social distancing and mask policies.

Shopping with a Mask
Photo by Arturo Rey on Unsplash

Mask wearing has become ubiquitous with protection against COVID-19 and has been adopted by a wide range of health officials and companies. Unfortunately, mask wearing has become a divisive topic in America. Some local governments have instituted mask mandates throughout 2020, but it is not clear that these mandates were enforceable and this has left lingering questions over a possible federal mask mandate. Regardless of what happens in the election, companies are going to be faced with customers who will refuse to wear protection or follow other safety guidelines. Interactions with these kinds of customers can vary from benign to volatile and businesses must come up with policies to mitigate the latter. Clear signage, intercom systems, and strategically placed employees at entrances are a tactic that many retailers, such as Target, are currently using to encourage mask use and social distancing. If a customer refuses to follow directions, then a confrontation could prove disruptive to operations and put employees unnecessarily at risk. Any COVID-19 recovery plan will have to include a policy with how to handle non-compliance. Options range from expediting the customers’ purchase to asking them to leave and possibly calling authorities if a resolution is not met. This can add a new complication to any customer facing business, but the issue can also present itself in employees as well. In the age of smartphones, both outcomes can generate negative publicity.

Many businesses now require employees to take extra sanitary measures and wear some form of protective equipment. This change could alter productivity and in some cases the health of an employee may hinder them from wearing a mask or other PPE. Additionally, employers may have to grapple with employees who refuse to follow safety measures and there are currently very few options that favor employers. No matter how many safety measures a company takes for both their employees and customers, they must be ready for the likely possibility that someone will contract COVID-19. The liability of a company if an employee contracts the virus has been a major point of contention since March and is even debated as a line item in an upcoming PPP expansion bill. The reluctance of some companies to open and the abundance of safety protocols stems in part from the fear of legal liability that employers currently carry. There have been over 8 million confirmed cases in U.S. as of today and that number will continue to increase. Companies should have a game plan for when employees come down with symptoms or test positive. Contact tracing and testing have been two of the most widely used methods so far and it can be difficult determining who was exposed. Many companies have shifted employees into rotating groups that reduce exposure and simplify the contact tracing effort. Additionally, industries that did not provide sick time off have begun offering the option to employees to encourage them to stay home if they are ill. Quarantining too many employees could disrupt operations and not quarantining enough could spread the virus. The National Restaurant Association, Produce Marketing Association, and the National Association of Convenience Stores all offer resources on reopening for each industry and even have guidelines for safety protocols.

COVID-19 recovery plans will vary greatly between industries and even between companies in the same vertical. Everyone must determine which safety measures work the best for their business and they need to be ready to adapt to new changes. The measures being implemented today will help discover better solution for tomorrow.