Whether you're planning to reopen your business imminently or not for several months, you still have to take care of your employees. Employees have different circumstances that can dictate when they can return to an office, however, and supporting your workforce adequately can be daunting.
For example, businesses with fewer than 500 employees that are planning to reopen may not be able to bring back workers right away if they have to stay home for child care reasons. What's more, those workers can be entitled to up to 10 weeks of paid leave.
"The good news is, the federal government is gonna reimburse you for those costs," advises Neil Bradley, executive vice president and chief policy officer at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. "Just make sure you're paying attention to this, because you're going to get in trouble if you're not providing what you're required to provide."
Bradley was speaking at the National Small Business Town Hall, a live webinar and panel conversation hosted by Inc. and the Chamber Friday, May 1. Here are three ways business owners preparing to reopen can support their employees.
1. Keep employees engaged.
Communicating regularly with your employees will help them hit the ground running when you do reopen, even if your business isn't reopening anytime soon, according to panelist Alissa Henriksen, co-president of recruiting firm Grey Search + Strategy. "You can't go dark during this period no matter the situation you're in," she says. "The most important thing is communication."
She advises sending regular newsletters, creating book clubs, or recommending free online training resources that employees can benefit from until they return to work. Something that's particularly helpful for parents who no longer have child care is sending links to free tools that keep children busy at home, she added.
2. Address health concerns individually.
If employees who are collecting unemployment benefits say they don't want to return to work because of a fear of catching the coronavirus, they're not entitled to continue receiving unemployment insurance. There are exceptions, however, such as when workers are caring for someone who is under an order of quarantine. The key to navigating these situations is to address each person's concern individually, according to panelist Lenore Horton, a partner at law firm Fisher Broyles. She advises addressing each worker's concern about returning to work rather than simply referring them to the legal rules.
"There should be some effort by the business to say, 'This is what we're doing to help keep you safe. There are actions we're taking,'" she said. "You have to look at what the law requires and then look at what kind of company culture you want to have."
3. Factor loan forgiveness into your plan.
If you received a Paycheck Protection Loan but don't want to bring employees back because your business can't reopen yet, think twice. Paying employees who aren't working may be your best strategy, as getting a PPP loan forgiven requires spending 75 percent of it on payroll, Bradley noted.
"You may have to bring people back and they may not be doing any work for you if your goal is to maximize that loan forgiveness," he said, adding that the eight-week period after the loan is originated is what's important for loan forgiveness. "What you pay them on the ninth week doesn't count under the law."