As the country starts to reopen, businesses are under great pressure to keep employees and customers safe. Even if a business follows every reopening requirement, there will inevitably be scrutiny from within and outside the organization. And, in this world of social media, perception tends to become reality. Below are a few practical tips to avoid attracting negative press while restarting your business.
- Follow the Guidelines.
A wise person once said, “truth is the best defense.” If you are following the mandatory reopening guidelines that apply to your business sector and your state, then you will have a ready response to any negative reports from employees or on social media. Requirements differ in each state, and sometimes in each county and city, so businesses with multiple locations may need individual policies for different offices.
In Ohio, Sector Specific Operating Requirements specify both mandatory and recommended procedures for each business type. For example, restaurants and bars in Ohio must “[e]stablish and post maximum dining area capacity using updated COVID-19 compliant floor plans. With maximum party size per state guidelines (currently 10).” For contrast, Phase 1 of Florida’s Step-by-Step Plan for Florida’s Recovery allows restaurants to “serve patrons at indoor seating so long as they limit indoor occupancy [to] up to 50% of their seating capacity” among other requirements. Check the laws that apply to each of your business’s locations to make sure you are following the most recent requirements.
- Control the Narrative.
Once you’ve established what the guidelines are, create policies to ensure that your employees know what they need to do to comply. Then, spread the news about what you are doing to follow the guidelines. Share on social media all of the steps you are taking to make employees and customers feel safe. Post your COVID-19 specific policies on your website where they can be easily found.
Even if you are not a business in the service industry, it is important that employees feel that they can come back to work. We anticipate that employees feeling reluctant to come back to the office will be a major issue. Therefore, it will be important to get out in front of it by sharing the lengths that you are going to protect employees and customers far and wide. Make sure your employees know who they can talk to if they have questions about the reopening or feel unsafe. This will demonstrate your commitment to a healthy economy and a healthy community.
- Monitor Social Media.
By now, it is clear that reopening procedures for individual businesses will be scrutinized in the court of public opinion. Pictures of crowds of people at bars on opening day resulted in health department citations and even a referral to a city attorney. While there are a relatively small number of health department inspectors, there are millions of citizens with cell phones ready to find the holes in your reopening policies. In addition to controlling the narrative before reopening, you should also pay attention to messaging being delivered after opening. If you encounter negative feedback on social media, be respectful if you chose to respond. Remember, if you have a solid reopening policy that follows relevant guidelines, then referring to such a policy is a simple and effective response.
- Your Social Media Policy.
In order to protect your business from negative social media posts made by employees, make sure you have a good social media policy. Employees do have the right to use social media, even to discuss aspects their work. For employers, the National Labor Relations Act enforces “protected concerted activity” of employees, which can include speaking to the media or posting about work grievances. However, businesses can write policies that require employees not to speak on behalf of the business unless authorized and prohibit disclosure of protected health information. The line between permitted and prohibited posts can be quite thin, so counsel should be consulted if there is a question. However, following tips 1-3 above should help cut down on the possibility that an employee will be disgruntled enough to post negatively on social media.
If you have any questions about interpreting the reopening guidelines for your business or drafting your social media policy please contact Ashley Watson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 614.246.7518, or contact your primary attorney at Brennan, Manna & Diamond.