Hospitality has been one of the top industries heavily disrupted by the virus. With both employees and the general public within close proximity of each other at most hospitality establishments, a virus can spread much more easily. Employers must be diligent about addressing the risks they now face so that returning to work and reopening during COVID-19 is as safe as possible.
Here are some key considerations for reopening:
Workplace controls mean an entirely new physical environment.
Your people returning to work during COVID-19 may wonder where they are. Since shared spaces (and equipment, too) are an invitation for viral spread, open offices may need to be revisited and replaced with individual offices and cubicle walls. Conference room seating should be staggered. The break room, with its coffee pot and microwave, should be closed down, too. More than that, ventilation and air circulation need to be considered, and a logistics map may be helpful as you consider how to remove risk from the way people physically move into and through the workplace.
In regard to the dining area:
- Have you marked every other table / booth out of service in order to maintain social distancing, if necessary?
- Is it feasible to install Plexiglas or other barriers between dining booths?
- Is expanding outdoor seating into sidewalk or street areas an option per local jurisdiction?
- Have fountain drink areas, salad bars and self-serve areas been eliminated?
- Have employees discarded self-serve items (i.e. utensils, condiments, lemons, etc.)?
For your main entrances and additional access points:
- Are there any economical options to provide for automatic/no touch door opening devices? Consider disposable wipes at doors or hands free openers.
- Is it feasible to have “enter only” and “exit only” points to maintain social distance?
- Are customers able to maintain social distancing in waiting areas? Has tape been utilized to illustrate 6ft spacing?
- Have designated take-out and delivery points been identified?
- Is it feasible to install Plexiglas between the reception area and the guest?
Administrative controls will spell out policies for a safer workplace.
It’s important to train your employees on all of the new reopening obligations and include these as official policies. When it comes to important awareness training, consider if:
- Your employees have received training on PPE usage and requirements?
- Have re-trained on proper hand washing procedures?
- Your staff has been trained on designated space to put on and take off clean clothes, masks, and gloves?
- Employees have been trained on new protocols regarding breakroom capacity, not congregating in the restaurant and no large groups socializing in the parking lot areas?
Ready your policy for employees at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19.
Those with pre-existing conditions are especially vulnerable returning to work during COVID-19. It’s important to protect them without jeopardizing the business. The government has offered guidance on employers’ duties. Your actions should also be guided by legal counsel. It’s important to understand who in your employee population might be affected. However, under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the “interactive process” of working out reasonable accommodation should not start unless the employee requests it – after disclosing the condition. Remember, though: No employees should be excluded from the workplace solely based on their health risk.
Make testing and treatment a foundation of returning to work during COVID-19.
Testing still isn’t widely accessible in all parts of the nation, but being proactive can help prevent an outbreak. Employees should be screened with temperature checks before they start work each day and encouraged to stay home if they have symptoms. This is where mentoring employees on expectations is helpful, supplemented by testing when it becomes available. Have a contact tracing strategy in the event cases do develop. Various apps can help you with this function.
As local state and local governments adjust regulations and the hospitality industry adjusts to a new normal, there are many new liability risks, safety precautions and employer obligations to consider for restaurants and other hospitality businesses to adapt, recover and be successful. The above guidelines and recommendations should serve as helpful reminder for many of the important new obligations to consider.
On-Demand Hospitality Industry Webinar: “Preparing For The New Hospitality Normal”: Click HERE to view this webinar, where a panel of experts from HUB International, Ellenoff Grossman & Schole LLP, the New York State Restaurant Association and Total Food Service magazine address and recap hospitality reopening requirements and recommendations.