September 16, 2020 — Since early March, COVID-19 has disrupted virtually every facet of the business community.

As a retailer, either you've grappled with the challenges of remaining open for business while implementing preventative measures that grew increasingly drastic as COVID-19 spread through your communities; or you've been shut down, monitoring the news and contemplating the challenges you are likely to face on "Reopening Day." And though many states are easing restrictions as of early September, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the federal government's top infectious disease expert, indicates that COVID-19 could worsen and be a threat through much of 2021, leading to possible closures and subsequent grand reopenings.

The New Normal

Under either scenario, be prepared for the "new normal." Much has changed from a risk management perspective.

Let's look at some risk scenarios that have rapidly changed over the past several months.

Redefining your Retail Risk Management Approach:

  • Understand abnormal variances in state by state frequencies as state reopen plans
  • Review trends year over year for an understanding of these changes
  • Develop a model to predict new arisings as stores reopen due to limited foot traffic using stores sales, employee headcounts or other data elements
  • Keep up on state changes regarding workers compensation eligibility so you can react quickly and decisively with your claims administrator. Click here to learn about adapting with confidence.
  • Determine a strategy for conducting contact tracing to understand the extent of the spread, provide guidance on care for affected individuals, communicate with individuals who may have also been exposed and to minimize further spread of the virus.

For Liability Exposure:

  • Track when your company may reopen hot and cold food bars in your stores to understand and predict when new arising may begin to climb again
  • Consider changes in claims reporting process. Customers may want to limit time in the store, and there is a squeeze on managers' time resulting from increased responsibilities of reinforcing social distancing or sanitizing. Mobile applications such as GBGO allow for less touch points and speed of reporting
  • Consider there may be a new wave of GL claims/failure to protect against COVID-19; sanitation and distancing violations
  • Analyze how an increase in e-commerce from brick and mortar will shift your risk.

As you work with your safety and HR teams to resume or ramp up your operations, the primary focus will be on how to mitigate the risk of your workers and customers contracting COVID-19. Your decisive actions will help protect your company's brand and reputation, while minimizing your customers' safety concerns as they visit your facility.

Focusing on Customer Safety

If your business has been shut down, conduct a deep and thorough cleaning of the facility before reopening, consistent with current Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommendations. Once you're back in business, have an organized program and formal plan in place to have public areas frequently cleaned/disinfected per a set schedule. If employees are asked to assist with sanitization efforts, revise their job descriptions to reflect those added responsibilities. In house custodial staff and the standard "janitorial" vendors should be trained, use only EPA approved and registered chemicals and the work should only be done under a written protocol.

A fundamental step in providing a safer environment for your customers is ensuring that your premises is properly equipped. Consider checking the temperatures of employees — and customers, if warranted — before they enter your premises. Your protocol should clearly identify who takes on what responsibilities and ensure that they comply with all state and federal requirements regarding the information they have gathered.

Have hand sanitizer readily available for employees and customers.

Personal protective gear, self-checkout options and the availability of merchandise delivery or curbside pick-up services, are among the new staples for retailers. Parking lots may need reconfiguring to facilitate safer pick-ups. Follow FDA best practices, if applicable.

Make sure that you have the proper mechanisms in place to maintain social distancing in checkout and customer service lines. Consider modifying hours of operations to provide exclusive early access to elderly and at-risk customers. Moreover, encourage your employees to watch for and report any changes in customer behavior so that you can make rapid changes, if necessary.

Recognize the likelihood that your customers aren't going to rush back as soon as your facility opens. Many will be nervous, so your stores must be welcoming, efficient and decluttered to alleviate customer concerns.

Addressing Employee Concerns

A key concern among your employees is the possibility of being infected with the virus at work and bringing it home to their loved ones. Many are also fearful of losing their jobs if they become ill and are unable to work, or of not being able to make ends meet if they are forced to take unpaid leave.

A number of retailers have introduced policy changes aimed at better supporting their employees during these unprecedented times, like:

  • Offering paid sick leave to employees who test positive for COVID-19 or are placed under quarantine
  • Waiving absenteeism policies for employees who contract the virus or are afraid to work during the pandemic
  • Not counting coronavirus-related absences against employee sick, vacation and holiday time
  • Providing counseling services for employees dealing with sick family members, virus-related anxieties or the added stress caused by school closures and shelter-in-place directives.

As you look forward to the day when we can welcome both your customers and employees back to your establishments for good, be sure to consider all risk factors to promote good health and inspire confidence in your location for all stakeholders.

This article was updated in September 2020 to reflect current data.

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