As local and national governments begin easing pandemic-related restrictions on in-person activities, businesses must weigh how best to proceed with reopening, including restarting or expanding operations, reintegrating remote-working or furloughed employees, implementing new state and local orders, and protecting the safety of employees and customers. Here are a few key considerations. For more information, please see our Retail Reopens Guide.
How To Decide When To Reopen
While most retailers followed similar shutdown orders in a matter of days, reopening will be much more individualized, taking into account local government recommendations, the type of business, and the ability to adapt the business model. For retailers, reopening will also include updating the customer experience to provide enhanced safety and peace of mind.
- Retailers should develop social distancing plans or refine and update currently existing plans. Many state and local orders currently require essential businesses to have written social distancing plans in place.
- Some state and local orders mandate that customers wear facial coverings while shopping at essential businesses. Prepare to have personal protection equipment (PPE) available for customers who don’t have PPE.
- Some state and local jurisdictions require a cashless retail system. Review your payment systems.
- For jurisdictions where non-essential retail stores are still required to remain closed to the public, stores are allowed to maintain minimum business operations, which typically includes fulfilling online/phone orders.
Reopening Employer Best Practices
As jurisdictions are now lifting pandemic-related workplace restrictions, retailers are tasked with creating plans on how to call employees back to work and how to create appropriate workplace social distancing and safety plans for both employees and customers.
- Contacting employees who have been furloughed can be a challenge; so retailers will need to create avenues for communication without in-person meetings.
- When employees do return, stagger shifts and meal breaks, group employees to minimize exposure to one other, and allow ample time for handwashing.
- Creating appropriate social distancing can mean creating a standard 6-foot plus distance where customers would tend to gather, installing plexiglass, increasing curbside delivery, or offering special shopping appointments.
How To Find Funds
Governments around the world are issuing stimulus packages to bolster industries, protect small businesses, and jumpstart stalled economies. Retailers can take advantage of some of this stimulus money to help maintain its workforce.
- In the United States, Title I of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act—the Keeping Workers Paid and Employed Act—includes a paycheck protection program (PPP), loan forgiveness, and small business contracting relief. This act, in conjunction with the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act, provides for $659 billion in new and increased federally guaranteed PPP loans through the Small Business Administration to help keep small-business employees working.
- The CARES Act also established a Mid-Sized Business Lending Program (in addition to the Main Street Lending Program) to offer loans, loan guarantees, and other investments to businesses with between 500 and 10,000 employees that need loans to support ongoing operations and maintain workforces.
How To Manage Risk, Investigations, And Disputes
The COVID-19 crisis is expected to cause an increase in fraud activity, agency investigations, and potential litigation. For retailers, properly using stimulus funds, protecting employees to Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards, managing real estate disputes with landlords, and navigating between local and federal orders will be increasing important during the coming year.
- Federal and state regulators and Congress continue to release new guidance and requirements to assist mortgage borrowers facing economic hardships. Due to the high volume of borrower requests, the associated burden on servicers, and the unknown duration of the pandemic, it is critical for servicers to be in compliance with all forbearance-related requirements and for borrowers to maintain proper documentation.
- The Pandemic Response Accountability Committee, consisting of several inspectors general, is responsible for preventing and detecting fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement of all funds made available to nonfederal entities under the CARES Act.
- Employee allegations of COVID-19 exposure in medium-exposure risk jobs, such as large retailers, will typically not warrant on-site inspection, and will instead proceed through the nonformal procedures for investigating alleged hazards.