As the Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce held its first in a series of teleconferences focused around coronavirus, or COVID-19, business leaders had the opportunity to discuss business continuity amid the growing impacts the virus has had on the economy.
“Now is the time to come together as a community to support each other, which is what we’re focused on at the SCV Chamber,” said John Musella, spokesman for the chamber. “The chamber’s theme for 2020 has been building community, and we had no idea when we set our agenda for 2020 that our theme of building community would take on such an important meeting.”
The chamber was joined by local experts to share the latest information on COVID-19, as well as information on what businesses need to do to support their employees, customers and each other.
“First and foremost, you should be allowing your employees to use their accrued paid sick leave for any virus-related illnesses,” said Brian Koegle, a partner at Poole Shaffery & Koegle LLP. “We encourage you, it is the best practice, to be flexible in allowing the use of the other available paid leave benefits, such as vacation or PTO.”
Koegle went on to say that it is imperative to either develop or revise your written policy, outlining the steps employees need to take to help reduce the transmission of diseases in the workplace.
“This includes making sure employees wash their hands, providing hand sanitizers at workstations where appropriate, encouraging and reminding social distancing,” he added. “These are all good, best practices for employers to remind their employees to abide by, but they should be in written format in order to protect you, the employer.”
Though employers are permitted to ask their employees for a fitness for duty certification if they’re exhibiting symptoms, they cannot if they show no symptoms, nor can they ask specific questions of medical diagnoses.
Due to current circumstances, employers are allowed to ask for temperatures of their employees and customers as they walk in the door. “An employer is allowed to take all necessary precautions, not just to protect their business,” he said, “but to protect the employees that work there.”
Koegle was followed by Paul and Lisa Raggio, brother and sister co-owners of One True North, a leadership and business coaching solutions company, who shared steps companies should take in order to get through this crisis, while still preparing for the future rebound.
“Let’s face it, folks, business has changed forever,” Paul Raggio said. “We don’t know how radical, yet, but it has changed. And as we say in the Army, ‘We’re moving out,’ and we need to adapt, improvise and overcome existing conditions.”
Businesses need to break from their old ways of thinking and start anew, according to the Raggios.
“When doing business in times of incredible threat, it’s very easy to only be operating at the 15-foot level,” Lisa Raggio said. “While these moments compel us to troubleshoot and triage all operations and productivity, commit to regularly thinking through the bird’s eye view of the business and the long term macro versus micro outputs.”
Instead, focus on what you can do. “This is a time when we can easily get lost in all the things that cannot be done, but we only need a few things we can do to ensure that we survive, stay alive and thrive in the future,” Lisa said.
Your job as a business owner is to stay above the chaos and lean into a calm approach, Lisa added.
“In moments of crisis, people look for leaders to show them a way through it,” Paul said. “They want honesty and transparency, or understanding if you don’t have all the answers, but they do want to know what it is they need to do to get through it. You have to map that out for them.”
That being said, communication is key. The Raggios suggest companies give their employees, customers and stakeholders regular updates, while also explaining how and why decisions are being made.
“Be patient and empathetic,” Paul added. “They’re all anxious, and uncertainty causes this. Re-assure them that together we will get through this and (that) you have their best interests at heart.”
As the entire country, state of California and Los Angeles County continue to navigate through this crisis, Supervisor Kathyrn Barger, who represents the 5th District, which includes the SCV, is determined to cut through the bureaucracy and find solutions for local business owners who are struggling, according to Stephanie English, field deputy for Barger.
In the meantime, English was able to discuss a number of programs available to businesses now, including the L.A. County Department of Consumer and Business Affairs’ Small Business Concierge service, which is a free consulting service available to businesses affected by the crisis, as well as the Procurement Technical Assistance Center, which helps businesses compete for government contracts.
“Please take advantage of that now, because we will recover,” English said. “If you’re on this vendor list and you can get business with county, state and federal opportunities, you’ll be able to thrive as we move forward through this crisis.”
In addition, the Los Angeles County Department Of Workforce Development, Aging and Community Services, or WDACS, has implemented a rapid response team that can help with the challenges businesses are facing right now.
“Don’t limit yourself to just, for instance, calling the Department of Consumer and Business Affairs, but also reach out to WDACS,” English added. “If some of these challenges relate to you, connect with their rapid response team and find out how you can support your business and support your employees. These are very hands-on (opportunities and) these departments are ready to help, so we really want to make sure that you’re accessing some services from the county side.”
While the situation continues to change rapidly, there are still a number of steps you can take to continue to protect your business, employees and customers, English said.