Dealing with COVID-19 in the Workplace for Ohioans

The progress of coronavirus, or COVID-19 through the state of Ohio has led to a continually-evolving situation. In order to slow the spread of this deadly disease, on March 22, Governor Mike Dewine announced a Stay At Home Order that applied to all Ohioans except those involved in essential work or activities.

What does this mean for you and your business?

First of all, you must determine whether your business falls under “essential” work or not. According to the order, your business’ work is deemed essential if it involves any of the following: health care, critical human services, essential infrastructure and government, national security, groceries/food services, pharmacies, agriculture, charitable and religious entities, news and media, transportation, banks and insurance, hardware and house supplies, critical trades (maintenance, security, building trades, etc.), shipping and deliveries, education (should be conducted via distance learning), laundry, restaurants (take-out only), office supplies, hotels and motels, home-based care and residential facilities, funeral homes, and any business supplying items or services essential for these other businesses to do their work.

If you have any question as to whether your business qualifies as “essential” under this order, first read the order1 thoroughly. If you feel that you can make a reasonable argument that your business is essential under these guidelines, you may continue to do business. Be prepared to explain how your business falls into one of these essential categories if asked by government health officials.

If you will be continuing to operate your business, the health and safety of your employees and customers should be your foremost concern. You need to do the following to comply with the Stay At Home Order:

  • Minimize your on-site workforce as much as possible. Allow anyone who can work from home to do so.

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  • Encourage any worker who is feeling sick to stay home until they are free of fever (without the use of medication) for at least 72 hours (three full days) AND symptoms have improved for at least 72 hours AND at least seven days have passed since symptoms first began. Do NOT require a doctor’s note.
  • Review your sick leave policies and ensure that they are not punitive and would cause any employee to have to choose between coming to work sick or losing pay.
  • Any workers physically working on site need to maintain a distance of 6 feet from each other at all times. Wherever possible, designate these distances and buffer zones with tape or barriers to enforce appropriate spacing in areas like checkout lines for instance.
  • Make hand sanitizer readily available to all employees. Ensure that there is plenty of soap available in restrooms. Provide disposable wipes or other cleaning products to keep surfaces clean. Step up your cleaning and sanitizing procedures.
  • It’s highly encouraged to implement separate hours for elderly and other at-risk customers if you serve the public.
  • Offer online and phone access and encourage customers to reach you that way rather than visiting in person.
  • Travel should be done only as absolutely necessary for essential work functions.

How can your business survive this crisis?

If your business has been completely shut down during this time, or even if it hasn’t, you, like many Ohio business owners, may be taking an enormous hit and wondering how you are going to survive. You are probably also concerned about your employees and your obligations to them during this time or whether you may have to start laying people off, either temporarily or permanently.

If you are contemplating laying off workers, be sure to understand your obligations under the WARN Act. You may be required to give a formal written notice in advance if you are going to be having layoffs. Be sure to read the notice and contact counsel to discuss your legal obligations if you are considering large layoffs.

Before you get to that point, investigate your options. There are a variety of financial assistance initiatives and loans available to businesses with fewer than 500 employees to help you keep staff on payroll during this time through the CARES Act. The Small Business Association is also offering forgivable payroll loans, disaster loans and tax credits.  Visit SBA.gov for more information.

The state of Ohio also has a variety of other types of financial assistance to help businesses through this time. Some of the options include deferment of your health insurance premiums and deferment of workers’ compensation insurance premium payments. The state also runs programs called SharedWork Ohio and Rapid Response to help businesses minimize the impacts of layoffs and keep workers compensated during downturns. Visit the State of Ohio’s Resources for Economic Support page for more information.

This is a constantly evolving situation and these guidelines may have changed by the time you read this. Be sure to check Ohio’s coronavirus portal for the most up-to-date news on this topic.

What can your business do to help?

If your organization is in a position to do so, consider using this opportunity to give back to the community in some way. If you can gear up to manufacture or donate much-needed products like sanitizer, masks, gloves and so on, please consider doing so. If you have food that may go to waste, donate it to a charity in need. If you have expertise that you can give, offer it to an organization working on the front lines. Not only is it the right thing to do, but the members of your community will remember your generosity when times are better.

The same mantra goes for the opposite; if you exploit the situation by price-gouging or allowing your employees to work in unsafe conditions, you’d better believe that people will remember that too. Being seen as a callous employer during a national crisis may inflict lasting damage to the reputation of your company or institution. Let’s all try to pull together and work for the betterment of our communities as we go through this difficult time.