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Doug Currier, chair of Verrill Dana’s employment and labor group, offered these tips to businesses on how to protect themselves from a potential coronavirus-related lawsuit after they reopen:
— Staying up-to-date with the governor’s orders and federal recommendations on health standards: The Maine Department of Economic and Community Development maintains a page with the various safety checklists for businesses that are allowed to open. Gov. Janet Mills regularly issues executive orders that may overwrite previous requirements. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also provides general safety guides for businesses.
— Communicating thoughtfully with customers and employees: This could begin with signage upon arrival that informs customers of any unique policies that your business has put into place during the pandemic. Employees should also know the reasons for these policies and be able to articulate them.
— Informing employees of their rights: Workers are eligible for up to two weeks of paid leave for virus-related reasons under a federal stimulus program. The U.S. Department of Labor offers a workplace poster on the law.
— Maintaining social distancing plans, even if they are not required: Social distancing has become the norm, so even if your place of business has ample spacing, realize that customers may be more comfortable if they see active efforts to keep physical distances.
— Training employees and supervisors: Make sure everyone knows what is expected of them so that they and their customers are safe, whether it is washing hands frequently or not congregating in a break room.
— Keeping detailed checklists and records: This will help establish routines to keep a workplace safe and clean.
— Monitoring to assure the rules are being enforced: If you are sued, documentation will be important to show that you adhered to safety requirements.
— Exploring testing options, especially in high-risk businesses: This added step shows your employees and customers that you are concerned about them and serious about keeping them safe.
— Being proactive if a lawsuit might be filed: Filing the first report of injury with Workers Compensation Insurance if an employee gets sick and the business owner thinks it may be from work.
— Educating themselves about the rights of employees: Be aware that there may be legal protections for employees who cannot come to work because they have children at home or they or loved one has COVID-19 or symptoms of the disease.
— Knowing the details of government requirements: For example, the U.S. Small Business Administration has a detailed guide to the Paycheck Protection Program, including all-important loan forgiveness provisions that kick in if at least 75 percent of funds are used for payroll costs if the rest is used on a mortgage, rent or utilities.
— Knowing when to hold back: Take a conservative approach when in doubt.
Watch: Janet Mills outlines her plan to reopen