The changes caused by COVID-19 are happening daily, and sometimes hourly. If you have questions about how to keep your small business and employees healthy, or how you can best operate until things get back to normal, we’re here to help.
Resources and action items
What steps can my business take to minimize risk of transmission?
Repeatedly, creatively, and aggressively encourage employees and others to take the same steps they should be taking to avoid the seasonal flu. For the annual influenza, SARS, avian flu, swine flu, and now the COVID-19 coronavirus, the best way to prevent infection is to avoid exposure. The messages you can share with your employees are:
Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
Avoid close contact with others, especially those who are sick.
Refrain from shaking hands with others for the time being.
Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
Perhaps the most important message you can give to employees: stay home when you are sick.
Common hygiene practices are the foundation for avoiding the spread of germs. See this poster from SHRM.
As an employer, additional steps to consider include:
Ensuring that employees have ample facilities to wash their hands, including tepid water and soap, and that third-party cleaning/custodial schedules are accelerated.
Evaluating your remote work capacities and policies (see later section on Remote Work for more information). Teleconference or use other remote work tools in lieu of meeting in person if available.
Considering staggering employee starting and departing times, along with lunch and break periods, to minimize overcrowding in common areas such as elevators, break rooms, etc.
Having a single point of contact for employees for all concerns that arise relating to health and safety.
Following updates from the CDC and the World Health Organization (WHO) regarding additional precautions.
You may reference OSHA’s Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for an Influenza Pandemic for additional information on preparing for an outbreak.
What if an employee appears sick?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has provided interim guidance that may help prevent workplace exposures to acute respiratory illnesses, including COVID-19, in non-healthcare settings. The guidance also provides planning considerations if there are more widespread, community outbreaks of COVID-19.Recommended strategies for employers to use now are available at Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.These strategies include:
Actively encouraging sick employees to stay home.
Employees who have symptoms of acute respiratory illness are recommended to stay home and not come to work until they are free of fever (100.4° F [37.8° C] or greater using an oral thermometer), signs of a fever, and any other symptoms for at least 24 hours, without the use of fever-reducing or other symptom-altering medicines (e.g. cough suppressants). Employees should notify their supervisor and stay home if they are sick.
Ensure that your sick leave policies are flexible and consistent with public health guidance and that employees are aware of these policies.
Talk with companies that provide your business with contract or temporary employees about the importance of sick employees staying home and encourage them to develop non-punitive leave policies.
Do not require a healthcare provider’s note for employees who are sick with acute respiratory illness to validate their illness or to return to work, as healthcare provider offices and medical facilities may be extremely busy and not able to provide such documentation in a timely way.
Maintain flexible policies that permit employees to stay home to care for a sick family member. Employers should be aware that more employees may need to stay at home to care for sick children or other sick family members than is usual.
Separating sick employees:
CDC recommends that employees who appear to have acute respiratory illness symptoms (i.e. cough, shortness of breath) upon arrival to work or become sick during the day should be separated from other employees and be sent home immediately. Sick employees should cover their noses and mouths with a tissue when coughing or sneezing (or an elbow or shoulder if no tissue is available).
- Emphasizing staying home when sick, respiratory etiquette, and hand hygiene by all employees:
- Place 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.
- Provide tissues and no-touch disposal receptacles for use by employees.
- Instruct employees to clean their hands often with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60-95% alcohol, or wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Soap and water should be used preferentially if hands are visibly dirty.
- Provide soap and water and alcohol-based hand rubs in the workplace. Ensure that adequate supplies are maintained. Place hand rubs in multiple locations or in conference rooms to encourage hand hygiene.
- Visit the coughing and sneezing etiquette and clean hands webpage for more information.
Performing routine environmental cleaning:
Routinely clean all frequently touched surfaces in the workplace, such as workstations, countertops, and doorknobs. Use the cleaning agents that are usually used in these areas and follow the directions on the label.
No additional disinfection beyond routine cleaning is recommended at this time.Provide disposable wipes so that commonly used surfaces (for example, doorknobs, keyboards, remote controls, desks) can be wiped down by employees before each use.
- Advising employees before traveling to take certain steps:
- Check the CDC’s Traveler’s Health Notices for the latest guidance and recommendations for each country to which you will travel. CDC website.
- Advise employees to check themselves for symptoms of acute respiratory illness before starting travel and notify their supervisor and stay home if they are sick.
Ensure employees who become sick while traveling or on temporary assignment understand that they should notify their supervisor and should promptly call a healthcare provider for advice if needed.
If outside the United States, sick employees should follow your company’s policy for obtaining medical care or contact a healthcare provider or overseas medical assistance company to assist them with finding an appropriate healthcare provider in that country. A U.S. consular officer can help locate healthcare services. However, U.S. embassies, consulates, and military facilities do not have the legal authority, capability, and resources to evacuate or give medicines, vaccines, or medical care to private U.S. citizens overseas.
- Assessing the situation if showing symptoms, or being exposed to, COVID-19:
- Employees who are well but who have a sick family member at home with COVID-19 should notify their supervisor and refer to CDC guidance for how to conduct a risk assessment of their potential exposure.
- If an employee is confirmed to have COVID-19, employers should inform fellow employees of their possible exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace but maintain confidentiality as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Employees exposed to a co-worker with confirmed COVID-19 should refer to CDC guidance for how to conduct a risk assessment of their potential exposure.
Can we ask employees to stay home or leave work if they exhibit symptoms of COVID-19 or the flu?
According to CDC guidance, individuals who have had close contact with a person diagnosed with COVID-19 should self-quarantine. Employers can require an employee who has been exposed to the virus to stay at home.
When should we exclude workers or visitors from the workspace?
Employees should stay home or go home if they have symptoms of coronavirus infection. But dedicated staff often resist taking sick days, instead dragging themselves into work where they may infect others. Given the threat this epidemic presents, managers shouldn’t hesitate to send employees who present with COVID-19 symptoms home. Likewise, employees or visitors who are symptomatic or at high risk for COVID-19 should be kept separate from staff and helped with arrangements to leave the workplace and obtain medical evaluation while minimizing their public exposure. For example, they should avoid public places and public transportation, and, ideally, should stay six feet away from others unless they are wearing a mask.
If COVID-19 becomes widespread in the community, companies can check temperatures using hand-held thermal scanners and consider excluding staff or visitors with temperatures over 100.4 F. Temperature is not an exceptionally accurate way to assess risk, though, as some with the coronavirus will be contagious but have no fever, and others will have higher temperatures not related to this virus. Thus, an elevated temperature in combination with respiratory symptoms is the best indicator of possible infection.
Should we revise our benefits policies in cases where employees are barred from the worksite (or we close it)?
The likelihood that increasing numbers of employees will be unable to work either because they are sick or must care for others means that companies should review their paid time off and sick leave policies. Policies that give employees confidence that they will not be penalized and can afford to take sick leave are an important tool in encouraging self-reporting and reducing potential exposure. A Harvard Business Review (HBR) survey found that nearly 40% of employers have or plan to clarify their pay policy if worksites are closed or employees are furloughed.
Most firms will treat COVID-19 in their policies as they would any other illness, and sick leave or short-term disability insurance would be applicable. However, exclusion from the workplace might not be covered by disability policies, and prolonged absence could last longer than available sick leave. The same HBR survey found that more than 90% of employers in China paid their workers in full and maintained full benefits during furloughs. Companies should clarify their policies on this now and communicate about these with employees. Most will want to offer protections to their workforce to the extent this is financially feasible. (HBR)
Later in this FAQ, we list regional resources mobilizing to support impacted employees.
How can we maximize employees' ability to work remotely?
While many jobs (retail, manufacturing, health care) require people to be physically present, work, including meetings, that can be done remotely should be encouraged if coming to work or traveling risks exposure to the virus. The federal government is now recommending no gathering of more than 10 people and Gov. Holcomb on March 12 encouraged businesses to utilize telework wherever possible. Videoconferencing, for instance, is a good alternative to risky face-to-face meetings.
Free conference call services:
How can my company share real-time public health communication with employees?
Dangerous rumors and worker fears can spread as quickly as a virus. It is imperative for companies to be able to reach all workers, including those not at the worksite, with regular, internally coordinated, factual updates about infection control, symptoms, and company policy regarding remote work and circumstances in which employees might be excluded from or allowed to return to the workplace. These communications should come from or be vetted by your emergency response team, and they should be carefully coordinated to avoid inconsistent policies being communicated by different managers or functions. Clearly, this requires organizations to maintain current phone/text and email contact information for all employees and test organization-wide communication periodically. If you don’t have a current, universal contact capability already, now is a good time to create this.
Should my company revise its policies around international and domestic business travel?
The CDC currently recommends that travelers avoid all nonessential travel. It is prudent to limit employee business travel from areas where COVID-19 is most prevalent — both to prevent illness and to prevent loss of productivity due to quarantine or employee exclusion from the workplace after travel. Companies should track the CDC Travel Health Notices and the State Department Travel Advisories to determine what business travel should be canceled or postponed.
Employees should be especially careful not to travel if they feel unwell, as they might face quarantine on return if they have a fever even without significant risk of coronavirus infection.
Should my company postpone or cancel scheduled conferences or meetings?
If you have any questions about best practices, contact your local health department. Many employers are cancelling all but the most essential business travel. See the Society for HR Management’s article, Coronavirus Impacts Business Travel.
There is mounting evidence that social distancing can delay the spread of COVID-19 and potentially save lives, so most meetings and conferences should be converted from in-person to virtual. The federal government now recommends suspending all gatherings of more than 10 people. If you have a meeting, limit the number of attendees and encourage those who are older or have chronic disease to attend virtually. Provide room to allow attendees to sit or stand at least six feet away from others. Discourage hand-shaking and assure that proper handwashing facilities (and/or hand sanitizers) are easily available.
Are there additional workplace safety guidelines I should follow?
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently published Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19, outlining steps employers can take to help protect their workforce. OSHA has classified workplaces and work operations into four risk zones, based on the likelihood of employees’ occupational exposure during a pandemic. These risk zones are useful in determining appropriate work practices and precautions. The “High” and “Very High” risk zones apply to those in the healthcare industry interacting with known or suspected COVID-19 patients. The information on this page focuses on the”Lower” and “Medium” risk zones, which includes employees who have occupational contact with co-workers and the general public.
How can I get up-to-date health information?
How do I get in contact with the local and state health department?
Allen County Department of Health
200 E. Berry St., Suite 360, Fort Wayne, IN 46802
COVID-19 hotline: 260-449-4499
General information: https://www.allencountyhealth.com/
COVID-19 information: https://www.allencountyhealth.com/get-informed/covid-19/
Indiana State Department of Health
2 N Meridian St, Indianapolis, IN 46204
Indiana COVID-19 Call Center: 877.826.0011
General information: https://www.in.gov/isdh/
COVID-19 information: https://www.in.gov/coronavirus
Are loans or other types of financial support available for small businesses?
Yes, and large portions of these loans may be forgivable if used for designated expenses like payroll costs, utilities, etc. As a starting point, download our one-sheet overview of the most relevant loans available from the U.S. Small Business Administration.
There are three main options available from the SBA:
- Paycheck Protection Program Loans – Created by federal stimulus legislation, you can access these loans by contacting your business lender. The SBA expects to have these loans available for applications as early as April 3. Browse the loan application form to find out what information you’ll need to have handy when you start the process with your lender. For more information, see the in-depth guide from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
- Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDLs) – The SBA is offering these low-interest federal disaster loans for working capital to Indiana small businesses who suffer substantial economic injury as a result of COVID-19. To apply for a loan, visit the SBA application page here. If you need help, you can call the SBA’s Disaster Customer Service Center at 800-659-2955 or email email@example.com. Individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing can call 800-877-8339. You can learn more from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
- Traditional SBA 7(a) Loans – The SBA continues to offer its full line of loans for small businesses, including Standard 7(a), 7(a) Small Loan, SBA Express, Export Express, Export Working Capital, International Trade, Preferred Lenders, Veterans Advantage, and CAPLines. Contact your business lender to learn more.
There are also tax credits available for businesses as part of the federal stimulus package. Learn more from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce about the Employee Retention Tax Credit.
Does my business insurance cover income losses due to COVID-19?
Are there any relief options for upcoming tax payments?
Federal: Filing and payment deadlines for federal income tax returns have been extended to July 15. Get more information from the U.S. Department of the Treasury.
Indiana: Filing and payment deadlines have been extended by 90 days for certain Indiana state taxes. Get specific information and ongoing updates from the Indiana Department of Revenue.
Where can I find more info about legal issues?
Additional in-depth resources have been provided by various law firms.
Where can I find more info about accounting/tax issues?
Additional in-depth resources have been provided by various firms.
- Baden, Gage & Schroeder LLC’s Paycheck Protection Program Summary
- BKD CPAs & Advisors COVID-19 Resource Center
- Christen Souers, LLC’s COVID-19 Updates on Tax Filings and Business Processes
- Crowe LLP’s COVID-19 Resource Center
- Dulin, Ward and DeWald, Inc. Accounting & Tax Blog
- Ernst & Young LLP’s COVID-19 Tax Resource Center
- Hamil, Lehman & England, P.C.’s CARES Act Summary
- Katz, Sapper & Miller COVID-19 Resource Center
- Mannia & Company, LLC’s COVID-19 Updates on Tax Filings and Business Processes
- Rothberg Logan Warsco LLP News Page
Where can I find more info about banking and loan options?
Additional in-depth resources have been provided by various firms.
- 1st Source Bank’s COVID-19 Assistance
- Chase Bank’s Paycheck Protection Program Info
- First Merchants Bank’s Commercial Banking COVID-19 Support
- MutualBank: SBA Lending Relief Programs
- Old National’s Coronavirus Business Resources
- PNC Bank’s Paycheck Protection Program Info
- ProFed Credit Union: SBA Disaster Relief Information
- Wells Fargo’s Paycheck Protection Program Update
What unemployment resources are available for my impacted employees?
Individuals can file for unemployment insurance through the Indiana Department of Workforce Development at www.unemployment.in.gov. A primer on Indiana’s unemployment insurance can be found in this video.
Per an executive order from Gov. Holcomb:
- The state will interpret Indiana’s unemployment laws to the broadest extent possible to cover Hoosiers who are out of work because of COVID-19.
- Benefits will be paid to individuals who file their initial unemployment claims late.
- The Department of Workforce Development will allow individuals to continue to accrue unemployment eligibility if they take work leave because of COVID-19.
- DWD will seek federal authorization to provide unemployment benefits for those who are not otherwise eligible for unemployment, such individuals who have recently started a job.
- For employers, DWD will not assess certain experience rate penalties because of employees who receive unemployment benefits because of COVID-19.
What childcare resources are available for my impacted employees?
Childcare is critical. If your employees have a sudden need for a caretaker, you can share this search tool that provides an interactive map of local childcare options.
Families who need help finding or paying for care can also contact Brighter Futures Indiana staff at 1-800-299-1627 and a referral specialist can support them in their search. Every community has a Child Care Resource and Referral Agency (CCR&R) who can connect parents with local child care options and provide referrals for support. In Allen County, the local CCR&R is The Child Care Resource Network, available by phone at 1-800-932-3302.
If your employees need help with meals for their school-age children, you can get information from the local school corporations:
What resources are available to help my impacted employees in a job search?
LinkedIn is maintaining a list of large U.S. employers who are hiring.
For more information, contact:
What support can our employees receive from utility companies?
Providers of essential utility services such as gas and electric, broadband, telecom, water and wastewater services are prohibited from discontinuing service to any customer during the public health emergency.
- Indiana Michigan Power (I&M) has temporarily suspended customer disconnections for non-payment, but urges customers to make every effort to keep their accounts current. Contact I&M at 1-800-311-4634 or visit indianamichiganpower.com.
- NIPSCO has also suspended shutoffs until further notice. In addition, NIPSCO will offer its most flexible payment plans to customers who indicate either an impact or hardship as a result of COVID-19 and will suspend late payment charges until May 1. Contact NIPSCO at 1-800-4NIPSCO or visit nipsco.com.
- Fort Wayne City Utilities has suspended disconnects for non-payment until April 15. Customers are urged to do their best to continue paying their bills, and flexible payment plans are always available. Please call City Utilities Customer Support at 260.427.1234 to discuss extended payment plans, or visit https://www.cityoffortwayne.org/utilities/city-utilities.html.
- Paulding Putnam Electric Cooperative has closed its office and drive-thru window indefinitely, but can still accept online or phone payments. If you are struggling to pay your bill due to special circumstances related to COVID-19, the company is willing to work with those who call the PPEC office at 800-686-2357.
What other help can I pass along to my employees?
Applications for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), or health coverage (Medicaid) can be submitted online at www.fssabenefits.in.gov.
Per an executive order from Gov. Holcomb, Indiana has offered additional protections:
- No residential eviction proceedings or foreclosure actions may be initiated during the public health emergency. This does not relieve the individual of obligations to pay rent or mortgage payments.
- All public housing authorities are requested to extend deadlines for housing assistance recipients and required documentation to show eligibility for housing programs.
- The Indiana Department of Financial Institutions and Indiana Community Housing Development Authority are required to work with financial institutions to identify tools to help promote housing stability.
- Participants in the Healthy Indiana Plan (HIP) and the Children’s Health Insurance Program are not required to make premium payments.
- Job search requirements are waived for those applying for Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) benefits.
- The Family and Social Services Administration will seek a federal waiver to extend renewals for existing Medicaid and HIP recipients.
- Telehealth services for mental health, substance use disorder and prescribing for Medicaid covered services will be expanded.
- The commissioner of the state Department of Insurance will request that insurers institute a 60-day moratorium on policy cancellations for non-payment of premiums. This does not suspend a policyholder’s obligation to make payments.
In addition, Indiana 2-1-1 is a free, confidential service that helps Hoosiers across Indiana find the local resources they need, like food, clothing, healthcare, housing and utility assistance, and more–and it’s available 24/7. Dial 2-1-1 to connect with a navigator, or visit in211.communityos.org.
What are the Indiana restrictions on business operations?
On March 23, Gov. Holcomb issued an executive order for Hoosiers to stay at home for two weeks. The order takes effect at 11:59 p.m. on Tuesday, March 24, and remains in effect until 11:59 p.m. on Monday, April 6.
From a business standpoint, the order requires everyone to stay indoors, unless they are doing work deemed “essential.” Residents may also travel/go outdoors if buying food and other necessary supplies, exercising outside, taking care of others, etc.
Entities considered “essential” include:
- Critical infrastructure workers such as those working in healthcare and public health, law enforcement, public safety, and first responders, energy, water and wastewater, transportation and logistics, infrastructure and public works, hazardous materials, chemical and industrial gas, and defense industrial base.
- Stores that sell groceries and medicine.
- Food, beverage, and agriculture workers.
- Organizations that provide charitable and social services.
- Religious entities.
- Media outlets.
- Gas stations and businesses needed for transportation.
- Financial and insurance institutions.
- Hardware and supply stores.
- Critical trades (building, construction, plumbing, HVAC, and other trades).
- Mail, post, shipping, logistics, delivery, and pick-up services.
- Educational institutions.
- Laundry services.
- Restaurants (carry-out and delivery only).
- Businesses that sell, manufacture, or supply products needed for people to work from home.
- Businesses that sell, manufacture, and/or supply other essential businesses with support or materials necessary to operate.
- Transportation necessary for essential activities.
- Home-based care and services.
- Residential facilities and shelters.
- Professional services such as legal services, accounting services, insurance services, and real estate services.
- Manufacturing companies, distributors, and supply chain companies producing and supplying essential products and services.
- Critical labor union functions.
- Hotels and motels, to the extent they are used for lodging and delivery or carryout food services.
- Funeral services.
Remember, workers for all entities may continue working remotely from home, as many were prior to this executive order.
What resources are available to support changes in my business operations?
Below are current resources available when navigating your business needs. If you have specific questions, email Brenda Gerber Vincent at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Katz, Sapper & Miller: Managing Cash Flow in Uncertain Times
- Business Affected by COVID-19: Provide Customers with Updated Google Info
- SHRM: How to Create an Effective Teleworking Program
- Carson LLP Blog: What to Know Prior to Sending Your Employees Remote
- HBR: What’s Your Company’s Emergency Remote Work Plan?
- CDC: Print Resources for Display in Business
- 2GoFW: Facebook group sharing restaurants/pubs open for carry-out/delivery orders
- NewAllen Alliance’s directory of restaurants/pubs open for carry-out/delivery in east Allen County
- Interactive map of restaurants open for carry-out/delivery in the city of New Haven
- State of Indiana’s unemployment insurance information for employers
Is there payment relief for the rental of our physical workspace and its utilities?
SBA loans administered through the Paycheck Protection Program and Economic Injury Disaster Loan program may be used for certain fixed debts like rent and utilities. Download this one-sheet summary to learn about the available options and how you can apply for assistance. When used correctly, large portions of these loans are forgivable.
In the meantime, reach out to your business contractors as needed. In many communities across the US, there is a sense of collaboration with many novel short-term solutions. These are unprecedented times, and our community is taking unprecedented measures to look out for small businesses and their employees.