How to Remain Covid-19 Compliant While Running Your Business
As business owners, we all have a lot of unanswered questions regarding the current stay at home orders and how we can continue to operate while still being compliant with the Covid-19 regulations. This post will spell out the Ventura County guidelines for essential businesses and attempt to answer your Covid-related business questions, so that you can open your doors while still ensuring the safety of your employees and customers.
What is an Essential Business?
On April 20, 2020 the County of Ventura issued their “Stay Well at Home” order directing people to stay at home, close non-essential businesses and prohibit non-essential activities in an effort to combat the Covid-19 pandemic. While some of these restrictions have now been lifted, any businesses deemed “essential” by the county have been allowed to remain open and operate, even during the stay at home orders, as long as they followed certain safety guidelines.
“Essential Businesses”—as defined by the Ventura stay at home order—include the following: healthcare operations, grocery stores, agricultural production, businesses that provide food, shelter or social services, news media, gas stations, banks, hardware stores, housing contractors such as plumbers, electricians, house cleaners and gardeners, shipping or mailing services, laundromats or dry cleaners, educational institutions as long as they maintain social distancing, restaurants that serve food (but only for pick-up or delivery), businesses that ship or deliver food or groceries, transportation companies, in-home care for seniors, children or persons with disabilities, childcare facilities, lodging and hotels for essential travel, commercial construction, bicycle stores, real estate service providers, automobile dealerships, household appliance stores, shoe repair shops, boat yards, and professional services such as legal or accounting services, when necessary to assist in compliance with legally mandated activities.
That means—for those of you who are operating a law firm in the County of Ventura—you are deemed an essential business because you provide an essential legal service to the public. Though civil courts may be closed, law firms that assist the public in conducting legal transactions, providing a legal defense or representing an individual in a civl injury case, business litigation dispute, or similar legal representation are deemed an essential business and have been allowed to remain open even before additional businesses were allowed to open under the phase 2 plan.
California Governor Gavin Newsom declared that law firms (and their employees) are on the state’s “Essential Critical Infrastructure Workers” list. Law firms in particular have been deemed essential because they often have clients seeking to address the many challenges and novel legal questions presented by the pandemic. For example, employees may require representation by an employment discrimination lawyer for their firing as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, domestic disputes and temporary restraining orders are actually on the rise, and criminal representation is still required each and every day.
What is a Non-Essential Business?
Since we are now in the early stages of what the State of California has called “Stage 2”, that means that certain retail, related logistics and manufacturing, office workplaces, limited personal services, outdoor museums, child care, and essential businesses can open with modifications. The state has of course issued guidance on how these workplaces reopen safely. Lower-risk workplaces are allowed to gradually reopen, while citizens are encouraged to limit their time outside the home and travel only for permissible activities, such as grocery shopping, safe outdoor exercise, and seek healthcare.
Curb-side retail stores, manufacturers and logistics companies were permitted to open as of May 8, 2020, while childcare for those outside of the essential workforce, office-based businesses, outdoor museums and open spaces, and select services such as car washes, pet grooming and landscape gardening were permitted to open as of May 13, 2020. That means that if you have an office-based business, although telework still remains encouraged, you can open your office as long as you follow social distancing guidelines and register your facility as “open” with the vcreopens.com website.
The following businesses, establishments and activities are still not permitted to operate in the State of California while we remain in Stage 2:
- Personal services such as hair and nail salons, tattoo parlors, gyms and fitness studios
- Hospitality services, such as bars, wineries, tasting rooms and lounges
- Entertainment venues, such as movie theaters, gaming facilities, pro sports indoor museums, kids’ museums and gallery spaces, zoos, and libraries
- Community centers, public pools, playgrounds, and picnic areas
- Religious services and cultural ceremonies
- Concert venues
- Live audience sports
- Theme parks
- Hotels/lodging for leisure and tourism
How Do I Stay Covid-Compliant?
First, if you’re considering reopening your doors you should begin by reviewing the guidelines published by the State of California at https://covid19.ca.gov/roadmap. After reviewing the guidelines and making a determination that you fall within the categories of either an essential business or the non-essential businesses allowed in stage 2, complete a written worksite-specific Covid-19 Prevention Plan and post it at your business. You can download Appendix A: Social Distancing Protocol online and simply fill in the blanks.
Businesses are encouraged to implement as many protective measures listed in Appendix A as is reasonably possible. Once determined, copies of the completed Appendix A should be distributed to all of your employees upon their return to work.
Signage should be posted at each entrance to inform employees and customers that they should avoid entering the facility if they have a cough or fever; maintain a minimum of six-foot distance from one another; sneeze and cough into a cloth or tissue, or if not available, into one’s elbow; and not shake hands or engage in any unnecessary physical contact.
Further, the following measures should be implemented at your business if possible:
- All employees should be told not to come to work if sick.
- All desks or individual work stations must be separated by at least six feet apart.
- No contact infrared thermometer symptom checks should be conducted before employees enter the work space. In the alternative, employees should be individually asked if they are experiencing any symptoms of the virus.
- Disinfectant and related supplies must be made available to all employees.
- Hand sanitizer must be made available to all employees.
- Soap and water must be available to all employees, and the locations where soap and water are available should be specified in the Prevention Plan document.
- Copies of the protocol must be distributed to all employees.
The following measures should also be implemented to prevent crowds from gathering and keep people at least 6 feet apart:
- No more than a certain amount of clients, patrons or customers should be allowed to enter the facility at any given time. The number is dictated by the size of your space and the type of business you are operating.
- Signs should be placed outside the facility reminding people to stay at least 6 feet apart;
- All employees should be instructed to maintain at least 6 feet distance from customers and each other at all times, except employees may momentarily come closer when necessary to deliver goods or services, or as otherwise necessary.
Once these guidelines are agreed on, you’ll then need to figure out how you’re going to implement the measures identified in your worksite-specific Covid-19 Prevention Plan. If you’ve agreed to add hand sanitizer dispensing stations at each of the entryways, for example, you’ll need to actually place them in each of the locations. If you’ve decided to test employees with an infrared thermometer, then you’ll need to designate a supervisor or office manager to physically conduct these checks at the beginning of the workday. No matter what type of business you operate, you’ll be required to post social distancing signs at your entryways.
Certain requirements also exist if you are a business that serves food to the public. Be sure to consult the order to read all the specifics.
How Can I Get More Information?
If you still have unanswered questions about whether or not your business is essential, if you can open your doors, or if you’re doing everything you need to be doing to stay compliant, you can always call the Ventura County Covid Compliance and Enforcement line and speak with someone directly. You can direct your questions on business compliance or enforcement to either CovidCompliance@Ventura.org or call (805) 202-1805 between 8:00 am and 5:00 pm Monday through Friday. You can also register your business as open by visiting www.vcreopens.com.