This story is part of a new series in Concentrate about Washtenaw County businesses' response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Support for this series is provided by Ann Arbor SPARK.
One of Gov. Whitmer's most recent executive orders, No. 2020-114, requires businesses that are reopening to develop a COVID-19 preparedness and response plan and make it readily available to employees at least two weeks before reopening. Local business and law experts say doing so is not only legally required, but a helpful step forward that's not as complicated as it might sound.
Melissa Tetreau, a senior associate at Bodman PLC who specializes in state and federal labor and employment laws, says a preparedness and response plan can be a powerful tool to ease anxieties of returning to work.
"A plan can show: 'Here's what we're doing. Here are the risks and specific measures to mitigate those risks,'" Tetreau says. "It gives employees peace of mind and [the knowledge] that they'll be safe when they come back to work."
At a high level, a COVID-19 preparedness and response plan should cover: a designated person to ensure the plan is executed at the workplace, training for employees to understand the plan, information on how a business is providing personal protection equipment (PPE) and keeping employees at a safe distance, daily self-screening protocols for employees, disinfection protocols, and a response plan for if an employee contracts the virus. Plans should follow CDC and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) guidelines for returning to work.
While the regulations can be overwhelming on the first read, Bill Mayer, vice president of entrepreneurial services at Ann Arbor SPARK and a leader of SPARK's COVID-19 response planning, says taking guidance from another business or OSHA can be a helpful first step.
"You don't have to reinvent the wheel," Mayer says. "If you're taking an existing body of work from an entity, it's going to make your life a whole lot easier. I'd encourage businesses who have a similar business model to collaborate and learn from each other on what works best for them."
SPARK's preparedness plan includes bringing tenants of its Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti business incubators back in three phases, starting with phase one in mid-July. Those who come into the office must fill out a questionnaire every day asking about symptoms or if they've been exposed to a large gathering, and PPE is provided.
Mayer says office amenities such as microwaves, refrigerators, and conference rooms have all been considered as part of the plan. Visitors must check in and are limited to meeting in only one of the building's conference rooms.
However, there isn't a universal plan that will work for all businesses. Every workplace will have high-risk areas where employees are in close quarters, such as elevators, cafeterias, or break rooms. Tetreau says business owners should evaluate their situation and create a plan that follows guidelines, but also addresses the unique aspects of their workplace.
"The executive order, CDC, and OSHA are helpful starting points and that's what is required," Tetreau says. "The minimum is going to be really effective but probably not best practice. Everyone is going to have different points and things to consider."
Rebecca Seguin-Skrabucha, Bodman PLC associate and member of Bodman's Workplace Law Practice Group, says the constant updates to workplace regulations can be difficult to keep up with, especially for small businesses.
"What's difficult for small businesses is knowing how to access information, how to update the plan, and how to inform employees of changes," Seguin-Skrabucha says. "This is something working with counsel can assist with and make sure you stay informed."
Bodman's Workplace Law Group offers free preparedness plan templates for all four workforce risk categories (low, medium, high, and very high). To receive a template, businesses can contact Tetreau or Seguin-Skrabucha.
Additionally, SPARK's Business Recovery Center hosts an archive of past virtual events, and businesses can register for future events that cover topics related to responding to COVID-19. Mayer says these resources can be helpful to business owners who want to learn more beyond drafting a preparedness plan, such as tips for managing remote teams.
"The other important thing to remember is you're not going to get it perfect on day one," Mayer says. "A more conservative approach is probably better and is what we've been doing. If after a couple of weeks we realize we overreacted, we can always adjust."
For more Concentrate coverage of our community's response to the COVID-19 crisis, click here.
Emily Benda is a freelance writer based in Ann Arbor. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo courtesy of Ann Arbor SPARK.