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Three Ways to Shore up Your Business during the COVID-19 Crisis

During this pandemic, I want to encourage all business owners to adopt a new mantra:

Is i magen

It’s a Swedish phrase meaning “ice in the belly” and (roughly translated) reminds us to keep our cool in the face of crisis. This is especially important in the case of businesses with physical locations that customers visit, like restaurants, grocery stores, and hotels. People will approach your doors with apprehension, employees will wonder about the risks of going to work, and the success of your business after this crisis will be determined (in part) by what you do now.

Is i magen may be easier to mispronounce than to practice, but here are three things you can do to help your business, your customers, and your employees weather the storm:

  1. Educate Your Customers:

Post notices at all locations open to customers, and send an e-mail to your mailing list. Do more than tell customers you are concerned for their safety and that you are monitoring the pandemic.  Show them you care by identifying procedures you’ve implemented to protect them. Here are a few recommendations:

  • Increased cleaning and sanitizing throughout food preparation areas;
  • Increased sanitization of other frequently touched areas (like door handles, cash registers, phones, light switches and product cases);
  • Limiting occupancy in your store, your lobby, or at your checkout locations;
  • Placing markings on the floor at checkouts to identify safe space (in six-foot increments) between those waiting in line; and
  • Increased monitoring of employees to ensure frequent hand washing and to screen for potential symptoms.

These notices are essential to maintaining the obligations you already have under the laws that govern your place of business. For example, businesses that provide food for human consumption are required to “safeguard public health and ensure that food is safe, unadulterated, and honestly presented.” Minn. Rule 4626.0015. Likewise, hotels are required to be “maintained as to promote the health, comfort, safety, and well-being of persons accommodated.” Minn. Rule 4625.0400. Show the public that you take these obligations seriously by employing specific procedures to safeguard their health, safety and well-being.

  1. Care for Your Employees:

Is i magen should direct the way you manage your employees, because your ability to remain calm and communicate effectively will impact your business long after the pandemic has passed. Here are specific steps you can take to protect your workforce:

  • Do not “go dark” when it comes to your employees. They are all afraid for the future of their families, their jobs, and their health. Tell them what the company is doing to pivot, and welcome their ideas when feasible.
  • Avoid layoffs if at all possible. Consider absorbing some of the impact within the company rather than at the cost of the people who work hard for you. Apply for a loan, if necessary, to help your business cover operating costs in the short term. If you lay people off, you will incur additional costs of hiring and training later.
  • Comply with all laws applicable to employers. If you must turn to layoffs, make sure you do so in a way that is not otherwise discriminatory. Workers have the right to be free from discrimination directed at protected classes. In Minnesota, this includes discrimination based on race, color, creed, religion, national origin, sex, marital status, status with regard to public assistance, familial status, membership or activity in a local commission, disability, sexual orientation, or age. Minn. Stat. §363A.08 subd 2. In the context of the current health crisis, laying off an employee because she is 65 years old and at higher risk for COVID-19, or because she is single and doesn’t have to support a family, is not advisable because it may be deemed discrimination.
  1. Prepare, Don’t Panic:

Several states have directed all non-essential businesses to close. Are you an essential business?  Be prepared in the event Minnesota issues such a directive. Each state has some authority to determine which businesses are essential, but if you fall into one of the categories, it’s fair to assume that you will continue to operate in some capacity:

  • Healthcare (not including elective services)
  • Pharmacies
  • Utilities
  • Grocery stores and food production operations
  • Banking
  • Infrastructure (telephone, radio, internet)
  • Hotels

Law enforcement, sanitation, government and other public services are also considered essential, so if you provide supplies or services to them, you may be called upon to continue operations.

If you are not considered an essential business, it will be critical that you are prepared to transition to remote operations if you want to continue doing business. Plan for these things now so you are ready for a smooth transition.

Is i magen

Whatever you do, remember your new mantra. Share it with your customers, your employees, and the community. Remain calm, be prepared, and position your business for a great rebound in the near future.

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