Coronavirus Tips for Small Business

Washington State’s law on sick pay can be a real force for containing the Coronavirus here. Now is a great time to review your compliance and consider what changes this emergency requires. Consider whether you need to make your sick and family leave policies more generous temporarily.

Summary of our state paid sick leave law

  • Beginning in 2018 you must provide every non-exempt employee, including seasonal, temporary, on-call and part-time statuses, with sick pay.
  • Paid sick leave must accrue at the rate of one hour of paid sick leave for every 40 hours worked. That is the minimum. You may be more generous.
  • You cannot require proof of illness for 3-day absences or less. In addition, the State of Washington is strongly suggesting that you waive any proof for respiratory illness during the emergency. Many medical offices are restricting appointments for those with novel Coronavirus symptoms.
  • In addition to paying sick pay if you must shut down your operations, your employees may use sick pay when their children’s schools are closed related to an illness.

The official summary of the paid sick leave law also explains ways that you can supplement the law.

Consider absence and sick pay policy changes

Business owners play a key role in limiting the spread of the virus. Washingtonians are already curtailing social gatherings and entertainment. Workplaces and schools thus become the biggest sources of disease spread. Check out the guidance from the Washington State Department of Health for temporary changes to your policies around attendance and sick pay.

  • Encourage everyone to STAY HOME if they have a respiratory illness. They may not return to work until their temperature is below 100.4 F and they are symptom-free for 24 hours or more without medications that lower fever and suppress symptoms.
  • Make it official that anyone with a cough and shortness of breath will be immediately separated and sent home.
  • Post posters that encourage staying home when sick, cough and sneeze etiquette, and hand hygiene at the entrance to your workplace and in other workplace areas where they are likely to be seen.
  • Don’t require staff to provide medical documentation for respiratory illness during this time.
  • Be flexible with your attendance policies. Keep in mind that your staff may also need to stay at home with sick family members or children home because schools have closed.

Key novel Coronavirus recommendations for business owners

As a small business owner, you are juggling a lot more than usual. You may not have had time to read the excellent Workplace and Employer Resources & Recommendations from the Department of Health.  Here are some highlights, but make a bit of time to read the full document.

  • You must act immediately in two situations.
    • If you suspect an employee or contract worker has a fever, cough or breathing difficulty AND has traveled from a country with a heavy outbreak (currently China, Italy, Iran, South Korea).
    • If an employee has the same symptoms AND has been identified by Public Health as a recent close contact of a confirmed COVID-19 case or had recent close contact with someone who is being evaluated for COVID-19 infection.
    • You should immediately put the person in a separate room and call your county public health department.  Kitsap County Public Health or Pierce County Public Health.
  • Make a plan to keep your workforce and customers healthy, contain the spread of the novel Coronavirus and keep your business running as smoothly as possible.  Your plans could include:
    • Set up as many employees as possible to work from home. Consult your IT department or contractor for help with temporary equipment and software you may need.
    • Cross-train staff to make dealing with high absenteeism go more smoothly.
    • Consider alternative supply chains.
    • In addition, you may need to prioritize your customers or even suspend part of your business temporarily.

The Health Department bulletin contains detailed information about keeping your workplace clean and what to do if an employee or the family member of a staff member is diagnoses with COVID-19. It also provides links to other resources.

Legal help for small businesses

This stressful, unusual time could raise legal and personnel issues you’ve never faced before. If that happens, Chalmers Johnson, our employment attorney, and Norman Short, our business law and tax attorney, stand ready to help you.