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Employer rights and responsibilities during COVID-19

Adapt your small business' operations to ensure that you protect employees and business

As standards and guidelines related to the workplace and COVID-19 continue to evolve, it’s important to understand your rights and responsibilities as a business owner. Quickly adapting your small business’s operations to ensure you’re protecting yourself and your employees not only from COVID-19, but legal exposure, can be the difference between an opened or closed business.

It should be noted that health requirements will vary by industry and business type. The following lays out only simple guidelines for maintaining a healthy work environment. For advanced guidance specific to your industry or business, contact an experienced HR professional or labor attorney, or register for no-cost, confidential business counseling at nevadasbdc.org.

Learning, relaying, and maintaining information is key to success during this pandemic. Staying current with guidelines from NVOSHA, Nevada Health Response, local health departments, Centers for Disease Control and the Food and Drug Administration can protect you from unnecessary risk. Current requirements in Nevada include, but are not limited to:

  • Wearing a correctly-placed face covering/mask in all public spaces (employers must provide a facemask to all employees interfacing with the public). Business owners must set the example if they expect their employees to comply.
  • Establishing social distance in shared spaces, the typical guideline being six feet of separation between all people/groups. This might mean installing Plexiglas partitions, marking the floor, removing certain tables/seating areas, and placing signage reflecting social distancing efforts within occupied spaces.
  • Maintaining 50% capacity in shared spaces (because the more people there are within a space, the more likely one of those people could be carrying the virus).

Create an employee handbook that outlines essential practices for all employee positions and your business’s infectious disease policy. Because every business is different, it is extremely important to build your handbook specifically for your business. Begin by performing a hazard assessment to understand exactly where your risks and liabilities lie. Detail all mandatory hygiene practices (hand washing, face coverings, etc.), social distancing guidelines, how to identify and isolate sick employees, and policies for employees returning to work after illness. Who will be responsible for disinfecting? How often? Try to visualize and contextualize all possible scenarios in your handbook, so that when an issue does arise your entire staff will understand proper procedures and expectations.

Educating your employees on specific health standards and requirements, as well as more general information regarding community spread threats, will help to keep them compliant with guidelines and confident that they are a respected part of the organization. Train your employees to spot the signs and symptoms of COVID-19, and document how they were trained in detail. Noting the daily health of your employees is essential, since allowing a potentially sick employee to work could place your whole operation in jeopardy. General guidelines suggest that you must send home an employee with a fever, or an employee showing signs of any two or more symptoms of COVID-19.

A log of working, self-certified healthy employees is a worthwhile and inexpensive practice and should be stored in a secure place separate from normal employee records.

Enacting an anti-retaliation policy both encourages employees to report when they feel unsafe at work and creates a more open, relaxed environment to work in. If you have provided a safe working environment but an employee with no preexisting conditions refuses to come to work for reasons that he/she feels unsafe, you do not have to provide compensation. This policy should be outlined explicitly in your handbook.

Failure to adapt your business to safety guidelines or comply with state requirements can leave you vulnerable to all sorts of legal issues, as worker’s compensation and liability insurance will not cover negligent businesses. Federal OSHA fines start at $10k, and state and local fines can add up to even more. You also face legal exposure if an employee catches the disease while at work and it is found that you did not apply adequate safety measures. In addition, negative publicity (no matter how accurate/inaccurate) has the ability to destroy your business’s reputation.  

For advanced guidance specific to your industry or business, contact an experienced HR professional or labor attorney, or register for no-cost, confidential business counseling at nevadasbdc.org.


Brad Scribner
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