Posts

Resources for Opening Safely

(Published 5/21/20)

As part of our commitment to collate and share COVID-19 response and recovery information , we have compiled resource list to help you safely and appropriately open your physical locations.

General Guidance

Worker Safety and Accommodations

Unemployment Insurance

Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFRCA)

Cleaning and Disinfecting

Social Distancing

Screening / Monitoring Employee Health

Business Travel Limitations

Protective Equipment


For more COVID-19 related assistance, please contact us.


 

SBA Clarifies “Good-Faith” Certification for PPP Loans

(Published 5/13/20)

The US Small Business Administration, today, published and update to the PPP Frequently Asked Questions (PDF) to clarify confusion regarding loan audits and the “Good Faith” certification of need signed as part of the loan application process and form. The SBA added Question 46 as, “How will SBA review borrowers’ required good-faith certification concerning the necessity of their loan request?”

To summarize the impact

  • PPP loans under $2 million will not be audited.
  • Affiliated PPP loans will be consolidated for audit purposes.
  • The term “current economic uncertainty which makes the PPP loan request necessary to support the ongoing operations” was not clearly defined. Audits will most likely be based on individual facts and circumstances for each borrower.
  • Borrowers and affiliated borrowers with loans in excess of $2 million should be prepared to support their need of a PPP loan with documentation.

The full content of the question and answer is quoted as follows:

Question: How will SBA review borrowers’ required good-faith certification concerning the necessity of their loan request?

Answer: When submitting a PPP application, all borrowers must certify in good faith that “[c]urrent economic uncertainty makes this loan request necessary to support the ongoing operations of the Applicant.” SBA, in consultation with the Department of the Treasury, has determined that the following safe harbor will apply to SBA’s review of PPP loans with respect to this issue: Any borrower that, together with its affiliates, received PPP loans with an original principal amount of less than $2 million will be deemed to have made the required certification concerning the necessity of the loan request in good faith.

SBA has determined that this safe harbor is appropriate because borrowers with loans below this threshold are generally less likely to have had access to adequate sources of liquidity in the current economic environment than borrowers that obtained larger loans. This safe harbor will also promote economic certainty as PPP borrowers with more limited resources endeavor to retain and rehire employees. In addition, given the large volume of PPP loans, this approach will enable SBA to conserve its finite audit resources and focus its reviews on larger loans, where the compliance effort may yield higher returns.

Importantly, borrowers with loans greater than $2 million that do not satisfy this safe harbor may still have an adequate basis for making the required good-faith certification, based on their individual circumstances in light of the language of the certification and SBA guidance. SBA has previously stated that all PPP loans in excess of $2 million, and other PPP loans as appropriate, will be subject to review by SBA for compliance with program requirements set forth in the PPP Interim Final Rules and in the Borrower Application Form. If SBA determines in the course of its review that a borrower lacked an adequate basis for the required certification concerning the necessity of the loan request, SBA will seek repayment of the outstanding PPP loan balance and will inform the lender that the borrower is not eligible for loan forgiveness. If the borrower repays the loan after receiving notification from SBA, SBA will not pursue administrative enforcement or referrals to other agencies based on its determination with respect to the certification concerning necessity of the loan request. SBA’s determination concerning the certification regarding the necessity of the loan request will not affect SBA’s loan guarantee.

Prepare Your Business for the Next Normal

(Updated 5/4/20)

With some states and local jurisdictions beginning to loosen or remove stay-at-home and essential business orders and advisories, many small businesses will begin to adjust for the next phase of response and recovery.  For some, this will be a re-opening; for others it will be another shift in how we conduct our business on a day-to-day basis.  Either way, the process will be a minefield of financial, operational, legal, liability, and personnel issues. Before “flipping” the sign from closed to open, plan your return with care and compassion. Both will be needed to keep your employees, customers, and business safe.

Prepare the Groundwork

Guidance on opening is coming from many sources. We recommend a top-down approach, starting at the federal level and working down the your local municipalities and property owners.

  1. Start with the expertise and guidance from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  The CDC website  provides guidance for different types of businesses and gathering places that centers on three mitigation strategies:
    • Personal protective measures (e.g., hand-washing, cough etiquette, and face coverings) that persons can use at home or while in community settings
    • Social distancing (e.g., maintaining physical distance between persons in community settings and staying at home)
    • Environmental surface cleaning at home and in community settings, such as schools or workplaces.
  2. Review current laws and regulations under the Families First Coronavirus Recovery Act (FFCRA). This legislation requires almost all employers to provide expanded sick time, medical leave, and family leave pay for employees dealing with illness or childcare issues themselves or within their immediate family unit.  Make sure your return to work plans accommodate these programs and
  3. Second, understand your state’s rules and regulations with with respect to physically opening your business.  Many states are staging how they will allow business to open.  Then, check with local governments where your business is located and where your employees live.  In some states, municipalities and counties are adjusting how they implement state and federal orders and advisories to address local needs and issues.
  4.  Understand your state’s unemployment rules and regulations. In some states, lifting of stay-at-home orders may mean employees are no longer eligible for unemployment even if you keep your business closed or cannot bring everyone back to work. Your team will have differing concerns and levels of comfort; it is important to provide them with timely and accurate communications.
  5. Check with your landlord. Many office and retail complexes are setting up guidelines and rules for how businesses can and will be able to operate in their properties.  Some office complexes, for example, are limiting access to employees only and restricting access to trades and delivery personnel.
  6. Ask your landlord what additional steps they will be taking to clean and sanitize bathrooms, elevators, stair railings, door handles, and other common areas and high touch surfaces.  You and your employees will want and need to know how safe the environment will be when then return to the office or store.

With an understanding of how you can and want to take your next steps, create a Communications Plan.  More than just determined who, when, and how you will share information with employees and other stakeholders, the plan should provide a clear and easy way for employees to get answers to their questions.  As many smaller businesses do not have internal HR resources, you may want to assign a particular manager or executive team to the role.  If you have a contracted HR service or consultant, you will need to coordinate both the process and information. Set clear expectations for how quickly you will answer questions and how answers to common questions will be addressed to the company at large.

Prepare Your Place

As you do your groundwork, begin planning and putting your workplace together for the return of staff.  Social distancing is the current normal. With an expected recurrence of COVID-19 in the fall, social distancing will be part of our lives, and work places, for some time to come. For employees to return, you may be considering:

  • Setting up protocols to ensure that workers who may be ill, or have been exposed, do not enter the workplace and accidentally infect others.
  • Placing dividers between work spaces, or re-configuring your office layout to create separation.
  • Acquiring additional office space, temporarily, to allow more team members to return.
  • Requiring the use of masks or other appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE). Depending on your work environment, this may be full-time or only when employees leave personal work spaces and head to common or communal areas.
  • Cleaning and sanitation of common areas, like kitchens and break rooms, and high touch surfaces.
  • Coordinating disinfection and sanitation efforts with building management and neighboring businesses in leased office spaces.
  • Ensuring availability of cleaning supplies, disinfectants, and sanitizers.
  • Creating a means for employees to express concerns about the work environment and actions of others, without fear of retribution.

For some businesses, the safest course of action will be establishing split shifts or a rotating schedule of employee teams working in the office. Doing so can ease physical separation issues, but we should expect that some employees will need to, or want to, continue working from home.

Prepare Your People

Communications — timely, open, and honest — will be critical for successfully taking the next steps with your business.  For many, personal anxiety and stress will be high as we navigate shifts in our personal and work lives.

Provide your team as much information as possible on what to expect, and how things will move forward, as you go through each upcoming phase of your plans.

As you communicate with your team, keep in mind that employees may be dealing with personal COVID-19 impacts, such as:

  • Death of a family member of close friend
  • Sick or quarantined family member(s)
  • Loss of income by a spouse/partner/family member
  • Supervision of children learning from home
  • Lack of available daycare
  • Anxiety and stress
  • Feeling unable to return to working in the office

Be prepared to deal with the human side of Covid-19, not just the logistics.

  • Anticipate and have answers ready for employees about your requirements and their options
  • Establish a feedback loop and listen to staff issues and concerns
  • Engage your HR staff, service, or consultants to assist with communications, feedback, and responses
  • Update plans and timing as needed to mitigate staff concerns and business conditions

Prepare to Settle In

Set Expectations

As noted, above, experts are telling us to expect local/regional COVID-19 outbreaks throughout the fall and winter. With this expectation, we should plan for future stay-at-home orders and business restrictions. These will likely vary by location, complicating your planning efforts.

Remote work will be part of our operations for the foreseeable future. As you plan your next steps, make sure that your team is ideally equipped to continue working from home.

In the scramble to respond to stay-at-home orders, many businesses make necessary technology decisions for the near-term.  Now is the time to step back and take a long-term view. Employees may be working on home computers, using personal software, and working in a less-then-ideal space. Many businesses are also finding employees have signed up for free or consumer IT services to work around limitations, such as difficulty accessing files on company servers.  We still have a responsibility to keep information secure and private, and our employees and businesses safe.

Get Your IT Resources in Place

Settling in means adapting work environments — at the office and in employees’ homes — to our anticipated reality.

  • Improve security and access to company systems and data
    • Move data from on-premise servers to cloud file services to improve access and security; Map drives to cloud-data for compatibility with desktop software
    • Use Remote desktop and VDI solutions to move on-premise applications to the cloud, providing easy, high performance access without distributing data to remote computers
  • Ensure employees have workable use of your phone system (see this post for more info)
  • Reduce the need for remote PC, VPN and other remote access solutions that increase cost, complexity, and delays
  • Eliminate the need for shadow IT services by helping employees use existing capabilities in your productivity suite
  • Provide devices for employees that do not usually work from home
    • Consider rental, lease, and device-as-a-service option to manage costs
  • If unable to provide devices, upgrade home computers:
    • Add memory for performance and ensure the ability to run business applications
    • Deploy licenses of business software, even if employees are using consumer versions of the applications
    • “Next Gen” endpoint protections from viruses, malware, and ransomware
    • Web filtering and DNS security to prevent malware from infected websites
  • Provide employees with helpful accessories, such as noise cancelling headsets for video calls

We are here to help you plan and execute your next steps.  Our free Response and Recovery Assessment will help you with your planning, fully utilize your existing IT Services, and identify budget-friendly solutions to address any unmet needs and priorities. Email us or complete the form on our home page to schedule your assessment.


 

Coronavirus and the American with Disabilities Act

(Published 5/4/20)

The US Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EEOC) has published guidance on the applicability and limits of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act.

While the ADA and Rehabilitation Act rules continue to apply, the do not interfere with, or prevent employers from following the guidelines and suggestions made by the CDC regarding steps employers should take regarding the Coronavirus (COVID-19).

The EEOC has provided guidance, consistent with these workplace protections and rules, that can help employers implement strategies to navigate the impact of Coronavirus (COVID-19) in the workplace.

US Chamber Launches Save Small Business Fund

(Updated 4/22/20)

4/22/20: The Save Mall Business Fund application process is closed as all available funds have been committed.

—-

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce launched a fund to provide assistance to small businesses in the form of $5,000 grants.

The Save Small Business Fund — in collaboration with Vistaprint and with support from Merck, S&P Global Foundation, and Travelers — will include contributions from corporations and philanthropies. The grant is expected to address small businesses’ immediate needs such as closures and job loss and will support their long-term recovery.

Applications for the Chamber’s fund will open on April 20, 2020.

In order to qualify a business must:

  • Employ between 3 and 20 people
  • Be located in an economically vulnerable community
  • Have been harmed financially by the COVID-19 pandemic

Click here for more information.