In an effort to mitigate the spread of coronavirus, many states have closed non-essential businesses and issued quarantine, shelter-in-place, and social distancing orders. While these measures are aimed at protecting the health and safety of the public, they also place small and mid-sized businesses (SMBs) in a precarious situation. Here are some tips to help you and your SMB survive the coronavirus pandemic.
Take Advantage of Small Business Resources
First and foremost, SMB owners should seek guidance from their local or state Small Business Association (SBA) office to learn more about the kinds of assistance they are eligible to receive through the CARES Act. The SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program and Payroll Protection Program (PPP) can help ensure that SMBs are able to weather this storm.
Payroll Protection Program
Companies with 500 or fewer employees that have been impacted by coronavirus-related issues may apply for the PPP through the SBA. Businesses who continue to operate and retain employees from the start of the crisis (February 15) through June 30 can request a federally-backed loan equivalent to the lesser of 2.5 times their total monthly payroll costs or $10 million. Businesses who were forced to close, either temporarily or permanently, after February 15 may receive a maximum loan equivalent to 2.5 times the average monthly payroll costs for January and February. PPP loans carry a maximum interest rate of 4% and a maximum repayment window of 10 years. The PPP also provides deferrals on loan repayments for up to one year. Furthermore, the SBA will forgive PPP loans if they are used exclusively for their intended purposes (such as payroll costs, costs related to group healthcare benefits, employee salaries, and utilities), and if businesses retain, or quickly rehire, employees at pre-crisis salary levels. If you were forced to cut employee numbers due to the pandemic, you have until June 30, 2020 to return your workforce to its pre-disaster numbers to meet that portion of the requirements. For complete information on the Paycheck Protection Program, visit the SBA’s page here.
Economic Injury Disaster Loan
The CARES Act also updates the SBA’s existing EIDL program with expanded eligibility and more favorable loan terms. These loans are available to most entities with less than 500 employees (including small business, sole proprietorships, independent contractors, self-employed persons, and private nonprofits) who have suffered substantial economic injury due to the coronavirus pandemic. Businesses can apply for loans of up to $2 million, with an interest rate of 3.75% for businesses and 2.75% for nonprofits and a repayment period of 30 years. The expansion also provides eligible applicants with access to a $10,000 emergency grant within 3 days of their loan application, with no obligation to repay it. For complete information on Economic Injury Disaster Loans, visit the SBA’s page here.
Develop Proactive Policies
Employers who remain open during the coronavirus pandemic must adopt proactive policies to mitigate the impact of coronavirus on their workforce. By instituting strict policies regarding sick employees in the workplace, workplace cleanliness, and personal hygiene, employers may be able to reduce the likelihood of illness spreading. To combat COVID-19, employers who elect to remain open should adopt the following policies:
Require Sick Employees to Stay Home
Since coronavirus testing kits are not widely available, employers should enact rules requiring all employees showing signs of illness to stay home. Employers should make it clear to that these necessary absences will have no negative consequences and that they are in the best interest of the company, the employees, and their families. In light of the pandemic, review your sick leave and paid time off policies to ensure that your employees can take the time off needed to recover from an illness or to care for their sick dependents. Ensure that your employees understand their FMLA rights and, if possible, consider expanding your existing PTO policy.
Implement Social Distancing in the Workplace
Social distancing is the single best way to prevent the spread of coronavirus, so make sure that, while performing work, your employees are as far from one another as possible. If feasible, increase the distance between workstations or desks to at least 6 feet. If moving workstations further apart isn’t a possibility, consider alternating work shifts so that fewer employees are in the building at any given time.
Enforce Personal Hygiene and Handwashing
Place posters throughout the workplace that demonstrate the proper techniques for covering your mouth when you cough, and, if possible, send emails with video demonstrations of proper coughing hygiene habits. Once employees have been educated about proper cough hygiene and how it can reduce the risk of spreading germs, make sure that you enforce proper habits. Make it easy for employees to wash their hands and use hand sanitizer to prevent getting sick or spreading germs. Hand sanitizer should be readily available to all employees in their work space or in common areas. Make sure to purchase extra supplies of antibacterial soap and paper towels for employees to use.
Prioritize Housekeeping and Cleanliness
Increase the frequency of cleaning and housekeeping activities, especially in common areas such as restrooms, kitchens, and break rooms. Additionally, extra disinfectant wipes, sprays, and paper towels should be kept on hand to allow for cleaning of commonly touched items like door knobs, elevator buttons, sink handles, and telephones.
Set Clear Expectations for Remote Work
One of the biggest challenges presented by coronavirus is remaining productive while ensuring employee safety. Encouraging remote work is one way that companies are combating the spread of the virus through their workforce. If your business situation allows, provide employees with the option to work from home during the pandemic. Since this is a new experience for many, remember to outline clear expectations to set employees up for success while working from home.
Adopt collaboration tools and use video conferencing programs that allow your employees to stay connected with one another, and their managers, during this period. Talk to employees individually to communicate the expectations you have for them while they are working from home. Consider implementing weekly check-ins or requiring productivity reports at the end of each work day or week that track workloads, customer interactions, and projects. Put these expectations in writing and have your employee sign (or electronically acknowledge) that they understand the requirements of their work from home agreement.
Proactive Communication is Key
This is a difficult and stressful time for everyone, including your employees. Whether they are continuing to report to the workplace or working from home, be sure to proactively communicate with your employees to keep them updated on the status of your business. Send out memos, emails, or schedule video chats to inform employees about new or updated policies, what precautions you’re taking, and other vital information. By openly sharing business news with your employees, you will decrease the feelings of worry and panic they might be experiencing
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