This thing just got real
I headed out last Friday evening to a local bar with a friend who was returning to Italy the next morning. Why, might you ask, was he heading into one of the most hard-hit countries during this COVID-19 pandemic? Well, he said, if he was going to be locked up for weeks, he at least wanted to be home with his family. Besides, as a musician, all his gigs were canceling.
We sipped beer and made conversation with the bartender. This was the evening before the Mayor of Los Angeles announced that all bars were to remain closed. We joked about toilet paper supplies, and how selling them may become the bartender’s side hustle if they shut down the bar where she worked full time.
She smiled and shrugged her shoulders. The reality hadn’t dawned on any of us by that point that this was exactly what was about to happen.
I wonder how she is going to survive the shutdown.
Then, I received a message from a friend in a panic who runs an event and advertising company. Every client had canceled due to the restriction on gatherings. No events. No income. The company was about to lay off 50 employees and the word ‘bankruptcy’ was mentioned more than once.
What had been just a casual conversation on Friday, was fast turning into a real-life situation for all of us.
Small businesses are especially vulnerable to public closures and lack of foot traffic. It’s at times like this, the financial foundation and support system of a business, gets tested by the fire.
What can you do as a business owner to protect yourself from the heat?
Protecting yourself and your employees
By now everyone is probably washing their hands a lot more often than usual. You should be encouraging your employees to do the same and provide facilities where they can do this.
Encourage sick employees to stay home and don’t penalize them for doing so.
Do not make determinations of risk based on race or country of origin and be sure to maintain confidentiality of people with confirmed COVID-19, or you could be facing a discrimination law suit down the road.
Dealing with Lay Offs
No business owner ever wants to lay off staff due to circumstances beyond their control, but when the books go into deficit, unfortunately it’s a necessity.
This is a good time to check your Employee Handbook if your business has one, to find out the correct way to let employees go i.e. to confirm if they are ‘at will’ or otherwise. If they are not at will employees you’ll have to comply with the terms of their employment such as notice periods or severance pay. If you don’t have a handbook or written agreement, plan to make this part of your future business model, so you’re prepared for unforeseen circumstances like COVID-19, or otherwise.
If you do have to let employees go, understand that your employees will be in shock and perhaps panicking. How are they going to afford to live or pay rent? The current climate is upsetting for everyone, but especially for those who rely on their paychecks week to week to make ends-meat.
Be as compassionate and communicative as possible, and leave channels of communication open for the future. If you have the means to provide them with a grace period of paid absence, this will go a long way, even if it’s just a couple of weeks paid leave. Remember that when work resumes as normal, and you’re ready to bring back staff, you will want to bring back your good employees and not have to recruit new ones.
News just in is that the Coronavirus aid bill includes a one time payment of $3,000 for families in need. https://www.nytimes.com/reuters/2020/03/22/business/22reuters-health-coronavirus-usa-mnuchin.html
Provide employees with as much practical assistance as you can in understanding how to file a claim for Unemployment Insurance Benefits with the EDD or for Disability or Paid Family Leave Benefits. These benefits are now easier to apply for and the one week waiting period is being waived for now.
Mayor Eric Garcetti ordered a ban on evictions of residential tenants in Los Angeles due to circumstances related to COVID-19 which may help to soften the blow for your employees.
Additionally, the Mayor has ordered a ban on commercial evictions of tenants unable to pay rent due to the pandemic, until March 31, unless extended. Business tenants will have up to three months to repay any unpaid rent following the end of the ban.
Small Business & Startup Support Services
The LA Chamber offers a useful list of resources to support small California businesses affected by COVID-19.
For example, Startup LAunch Tech SBDC can help you set up remote tech workstations for employees and address financial concerns about cash flow and credit during this time.
There is also information on how to request a 60-day extension from the EDD to file employer state payroll taxes without penalty, and information on interest and fee-free loans from the JFLA, and SBA Disaster Assistance for California small businesses impacted by COVID-19.
Shape-shift to Digital
I’m continuing to get messages from friends and colleagues informing me that they’re busy converting their business offerings such as coffee, music and even ballet lessons to virtual classrooms and online sales!
Genius! Face to face service offerings are morphing into a new medium and the providers of these services are continuing to get paid.
Consultants, advisors, and support services in large businesses are discovering that most, if not all, of their work can equally be accomplished over the phone or via the internet at home.
If you sell products, even food or coffee, you can still get creative on Shopify, and find new ways of delivering your products out of the store.
Necessity is the mother of all invention. Hey if a ballet teacher can do it – so can you!
If you ever needed an excuse to work remotely or ask your employees to do so, this is it. Most tech and consulting type jobs can be done from anywhere in the world where there’s Wi-Fi.
Move your team out of the workplace and into the shelter of their own homes, if you can. As mentioned, Startup LAunch may be able to help you get remote work stations set up for your employees.
Hopefully you have business insurance in place.
Unfortunately, coverage for communicable diseases such as COVID-19, is not automatically covered, unless you pre-negotiated it when you took out your insurance coverage. This is referred to as ‘contingent business interruption’ (CBI) coverage.
CBI needs to cover the specific disaster in question and may be limited to a maximum payout, and the sad truth is that many businesses won’t be able to get assistance with their existing insurance coverage for the COVID-19 impact.
If your business is impacted by COVID-19 look closely through your existing policies to see what coverage you have, and what coverage you may want to purchase for the future.
Be sure to document COVID-19-related business impacts.
Financial Disaster Assistance
If insurance is not available to you right now, the federal government is increasing the amount of small business loans available to help companies through these challenging times.
The Small Business Administration is currently offering loans through its COVID-19 Disaster Assistance programs. This may help you get your business through the storm.
Tell your customers what’s going on and how you’ve been affected by the pandemic, but also speak a positive message about what you’re doing to overcome it.
Tell them about the new ways you’re offering your services and products, offer them discounts, promo codes and rewards for remaining loyal customers.
Speak to them frequently, through social media, phone calls, emails and other non-contact methods.
COVID-19 Los Angeles Mass Resource List
This is a crowd-sourced resource list that is very comprehensive and helpful for urgent issues affecting Los Angelenos due to the Covid 19 outbreak. Please share with your customers or other business owners who are in need click here.
Now is the best time also to support local businesses and buy from friends or small shops you don’t want to see go under.
If you happen to live close to Silver Lake, and are crying out for an awesome, fair trade coffee, I promised a friend I’d shout out Cafecito Organico as they hold onto hope and find novel ways to beat this novel coronavirus! You’ll find me there around 10AM for an elbow bump!
This too shall pass
Everyone is feeling confused right now, but this is a great time to really connect with your customers and let them know you care. They’ll remember you for it.
Remember also that this too shall pass and there is always hope. You will get your business and yourself through this storm, stronger and wiser.
We can do it!
Your Biggest Advocate
Equal Legal is here to support you with any business legal concerns you may be facing during this difficult time and we’re offering a discount to help PROMO20.
Equal Legal is a membership site for California businesswomen who know their worth and are ready to invest in their business. By joining Equal Legal, you’re not only getting affordable, world-class legal consulting, you’re also getting a legal advocate who understands your unique challenges as women.
If you’re ready to invest in your business, join the Equal Legal family today!
Nothing within this article is intended to be construed as, or used, in the place of legal advice.