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Headshot of Bob Patience.

Bob Patience     |     
VP, Head of New York Life Business Solutions

As the COVID-19 crisis subsides across the nation, small businesses of all types will need to get ready to reopen. The process isn't as simple as unlocking the doors, turning on the lights, welcoming back employees and customers, and resuming operations as usual.

The specifics will vary, depending on each company's location, size, and type of business. Many businesses will need to consider certain broad categories of concerns. Among them are:

Regulatory requirements

State, county, and local laws and regulations may continue to restrict which businesses can operate and impose specific steps to reduce the risk of infection for employees, independent contractors, customers, and the public.

Employee concerns

As long as schools and daycare facilities remain closed, employees who have young children must care for them at home and may not be able to return to a non-remote job site.

With some public transit systems operating reduced schedules and distributing scarce supplies of surgical masks to riders, getting to work may prove challenging or impossible for employees who don't have access to private transportation.1

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

Companies with employees who interact face-to-face with one another or the public may need to provide guidelines, training, and supervision to use face masks, gloves, or other protective gear properly and appropriately at work.2

Social distancing protocols

Keeping employees and customers further apart may mean reconfiguring not only individual workspaces, like desks or cubicles, but also reception areas, waiting rooms, hallways, break rooms, lunch rooms, restrooms, elevators, parking areas and other communal spaces.

Employee health screenings

Employers may need to establish new policies and procedures for employee health screenings, such as body temperature or COVID-19 testing, within the bounds of regulatory guidelines. The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has said employers can mandate medical tests for COVID-19 and ask questions about specific symptoms before workers enter a workplace if those steps are non-discriminatory, job- related, and necessary for the business. Medical privacy policies may need to be updated as well.3

Litigation risks

Employers may need to take steps to mitigate the risk of lawsuits or regulatory investigations related to COVID-19. The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has advised businesses to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines. States may impose their own guidelines, which may be stricter than OSHA's or the CDC's.4

Employment status

Businesses that hire independent contractors may need to review whether they can (or should) extend health benefits or provide PPE to those workers without impacting their status. Some gig-economy companies have announced emergency assistance for independent contractors.5

Contingency plans

Reopening doesn't necessarily mean staying open on a permanent basis. Businesses may continue to face periodic unplanned closures due to new COVID-19 outbreaks in their community. Companies should create contingency plans to respond quickly and effectively to such closures.

Do restaurants offer a model for the new normal?

For most businesses the return to work is likely to be a gradual and phased-in affair.6 Reduced or modified services, such as curbside pickups, app-based orders and payments, home delivery, or limited public access are being used by many restaurants before they resume full operations.7

Planned or proposed responses in this sector have included:7, 8, 9

  • Dine-in service with tables spaced further apart.
  • Waitstaff wearing face masks and gloves.
  • Enhanced cleaning and sanitation procedures.
  • Signage and floor markers to encourage customers' social distancing.
  • Plastic utensils in lieu of wash-and-reuse cutlery.
  • Paper napkins instead of launder-and-use cloth ones.
  • Condiments in single-use packets instead of shared bottles.
  • Plexiglas barriers at buffets and checkout counters.
  • Procedures for emergency closures in the event of known exposure to COVID-19.

These practices were never business as usual at most restaurants but are becoming so, at least in the short-term. Similarly, dramatic changes may be necessary for other types of businesses.

Despite the uncertainty, it's time to start looking ahead. Thoughtful preparation now is likely to show a pay off in the weeks and months to come.

About the author

Bob Patience is Vice President of Business Solutions at New York Life.  Bob oversees our employee benefits business, including our payroll deducted individual life products and our group life and disability offerings.  In Bob’s four years with New York Life, we launched our group offerings, re-priced and redesigned our individual products and re-positioned the business to support our agents by focusing on the financial needs of small businesses, their owners and their employees.  In addition to his oversight of Business Solutions, Bob is also leading a number of work streams related to NYL’s pending acquisition of Cigna Group Insurance.  Before coming to New York Life, Bob spent 30 years with Prudential, where he held a variety of product, underwriting, segment head, and technology leadership positions.  Immediately before coming to NY Life, he was the P&L owner of Prudential’s $3 billion block of group life and voluntary benefits business.  Bob has a BA from Colby College in Maine and a Masters in Business Administration from New Jersey’s Montclair State University.

This article is provided only for general informational purposes and is not directed toward any particular business or location. Business owners should consult with legal counsel or other knowledgeable advisors on governmental requirements and best practices before reopening.


1 Patricia Madei and Jason Laughlin, "SEPTA's 'lifeline service' can mean a grueling commute for essential workers," The Philadelphia Inquirer, April 23, 2020, See also: Patricia Madej, "SEPTA gives surgical masks to riders amid coronavirus," April 15, 2020,

2 Lindsay Blakely, "What Not to Do When You Reopen Your Business," Inc., April 24, 2020,

3 David Sparkman, "EEOC Allows Employers to Test Workers for COVID-19," EHS Today, May 3, 2020,

4 Paul Davidson and Nicholas Wu, "Workers face 'uphill battle' proving firms liable if  they catch COVID-19 as economy reopens," USA Today, April 28, 2020, covid-19-work/3035422001/.

5 Abigail Hess, "Can you be sent home without pay for having a fever?" NCBC, April 8, 2020,

6 James Doubek, "Chamber Of Commerce Head Welcomes New Coronavirus Bill, Gradual Reopening Of Economy," NPR, April 21, 2020, of-commerce-head-welcomes-new-coronavirus-bill-gradual-reopening-of-econ.

7 Natasha Anderson, "Starbucks begins reopening process Monday: Changes coffee drinkers can expect to see," FOX8 (Cleveland), May 3, 2020,

8 Carlos Fras, et. al., "Who wants to eat in an empty restaurant?' How Miami-Dade plans to reopen in a pandemic," Miami Herald, May 2, 2020,

Mitchell Ferman and Naomi Andu, "With little certainty and a lot of hope, Texas restaurants and retailers navigate new rules as they prepare to reopen," Texas Tribune, April 29, 2020,

This material is provided for informational purposes only. New York Life Insurance Company, its agents and employees may not provide legal, tax or accounting advice. Individuals should consult their own professional advisors before implementing any planning strategies. © 2020 New York Life Insurance Company. All rights reserved.