As the COVID-19 pandemic evolves with uncertainty, employers are urged to take the necessary steps to protect their employees and business interests, while also helping to mitigate further spread of the virus. It is also imperative to consider what may happen as a result of the pandemic – recession, supply chain availability, consumer spending. Short-term action and long-term response need to be key areas of focus during this time.

As part of NaVOBA’s commitment to serve the veterans business community, we want to share some valuable resources that have been complied by our friends at the Institute for Veterans and Military Families. In addition, here is some additional guidance valuable guidance for businesses and employers to plan and respond to COVID-19.

Business Continuity

All employers need to consider how best to mitigate the spread of the virus and lower the impact of COVID-19 in their workplace. They should identify and communicate their specific intentions, which could include protecting people who are at higher risk for adverse health complications, maintaining business continuity, and minimizing adverse effects on other departments or organizations in your supply chains.

When reviewing your organization’s policies and procedures, it is important to think through the second-order effects as well. For example, a ban on travel without a solid work-from-home policy can make the office crowded, leading to higher risk of transmission, and, if you conduct business from multiple geographical locations, consider what impact the closure of one office has on the productivity of another.

Some of the key considerations when making decisions on appropriate responses are:

Tips to Prepare:

Have you written a business continuity plan? It’s not too late.

Virus severity (i.e., number of people who are sick, hospitalization and death rates) in the community where the business is located.

Impact of virus on employees who are vulnerable and may be at higher risk for COVID-19 adverse health complications

Employers with 500 or fewer employees are to grant FMLA leave due to COVID-19 and up to two weeks of paid sick leave for absences related to COVID-19, as part of the new Families First Coronavirus Response Act federal legislation

Prepare for possible increased numbers of employee absences due to illness in employees and their family members, dismissals of early childhood programs and K-12 schools due to high levels of absenteeism or illness:

Employers should plan to monitor and respond to absenteeism at the workplace. Implement plans to continue your essential business functions.

Assess your essential functions and the reliance that others and the community have on your services or products. Be prepared to change your business practices if needed to maintain critical operations (e.g., identify alternative suppliers, prioritize customers, or temporarily suspend some of your operations if needed).

Do you know the rules around giving notice of COVID-19 exposure in the workplace and the sharing of medical information? Here is need-to-know data privacy information for reference.

Allow local leadership/management to have authority to take appropriate actions outlined in their business infectious disease response plan based on the condition in each locality.

Coordination with state and local health officials is strongly encouraged for all businesses so timely and accurate information can guide appropriate responses in each operational location

Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) has additional tips for preparing your workspaces for COVID-19 (OSHA Standards for COVID-19 and Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19)

What’s in the Congressional Coronavirus Relief Bill for Small Businesses: 

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act went into law March 18, but more aid is said to be coming.  Here are the FAQs from NBC News:

Q: Am I getting a check? I hear we’re all getting checks.
A: Not yet. That’s being discussed for a third relief bill, which is wending its way through Congress and which some expect could be passed by March 20. But there’s no guarantee that will pass, or what it will look like when it does. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, in a Fox Business interview Thursday, said if Congress passes the bill as currently designed, checks could go out in three weeks — $1,000 per adult and $500 per child, with a second round of checks possible six weeks after that.

Q: So in the meantime, what exactly does this second bill offer?
A: These are some of the notable provisions that might benefit you:

$500 million in additional funding for the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) nutrition program

$400 million in additional funding for the Emergency Food Assistance Program

$82 million in additional funding for the Defense Health Program

$250 million in additional funding for food programs, including home delivery food programs, for the elderly and disabled

Waivers to some requirements for school lunch programs

Waivers to work requirements to be eligible for SNAP food programs

New, temporary requirements that employers with more than 20 employees offer some paid sick leave time to their employees

Extensions to, and additional funds for, unemployment benefits

Free COVID-19 testing without co-pays or deductibles

Q: So when do I get my money?
A: Many of these benefits are simply extra funds for existing state programs, so as usual, you’ll need to apply through your state. See here for questions about unemployment and see here for more general advice on getting state aid.

Q: What about the first bill? What do I get from that?
A: The first relief bill, signed March 6, was largely dedicated to funding healthcare preparation to fight the virus, as well as vaccine research. There was some money in there for “telehealth,” or remote doctor visits, but it was mostly not a bill for consumers

From the US Chamber of Commerce and Small Business Administration:

The SBA announced it would offer disaster assistance loans for up to $2 million for small businesses affected by the coronavirus. These low-interest loans are available to businesses that have sustained “substantial economic injury” due to the spread of the coronavirus.

These loans can be used to pay off outstanding debts, payroll and any other bills they are unable to pay. However, small businesses that have access to credit are not eligible. Small businesses with no available credit qualify for an interest rate of 3.75%, and nonprofits will have an interest rate of 2.75%.

The SBA’s Office of Disaster Assistance will coordinate with state governors that submit relief requests. Once a state or territory is approved, these affected businesses will receive more information.

State-wide initiatives to help small businesses:

So far, the coronavirus has had a varying effect across different states and responses have also varied by state and even local government. The New York City Department of Small Business Services, for example, says it will offer financial assistance to small businesses in the form of loans and grants. The San Francisco Chamber of Commerce also plans to petition the government to waive fees for businesses with low margins. Washington state, the site of the earliest outbreaks, will also offer no-interest loans for businesses that encounter cash flow problems.

Since each state’s plan to assist small businesses varies, the best thing small business owners can do is check with their local governor’s office for the latest on state specific assistance, resources and updates. You can also check in with local small business organizations and agencies. Here is a list of state- and local-level small business resources to consult:

Local SBA office finder

List of SCORE organizations by state

Assistance from banks and credit card companies: 

Capital OneCiti and Wells Fargo have all issued statements indicating that they are willing to work with customers that experience financial difficulties. Citi issued a statement that for 30 days, small business customers are eligible to have their monthly service fees waived.

Citi is also waiving the fees on early CD withdrawals. Wells Fargo donated $6.25 million in aid to help the public relief effort. The bank also encouraged customers that are experiencing financial hardship to contact customer service for assistance.