By Doug Kantor
WASHINGTON, D.C.—The COVID-19 pandemic raises so many concerns that it may be difficult to know where to start, but it’s important for retailers to order their priorities in the current environment.
First, take the time to recognize that all of this can easily become overwhelming. My recommendation is to start with your company’s basic values and move forward from there. For example, everyone wants to ensure that their employees and customers are safe. The CDC has published guidance for businesses that covers things like cleaning facilities, educating employees about how to reduce their risk at work and at home and considering ways to take risk out of jobs by providing more distance between employees at work. That leads into other areas including providing employees with sick and family leave. It’s important to note that many state and local governments have their own requirements, and NACS members should check those as well because some of them include measures like limiting the number of customers inside the store, marking off spacing in queues, wearing masks and other measures.
There’s important guidance that NACS members need to know about sick leave and family leave. The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) requires employers with fewer than 500 employees to provide paid sick leave at full pay for two weeks for employees who have the virus, are quarantined or have symptoms. It also requires those employers to provide two-thirds pay for two weeks of sick leave for employees who need to miss work to care for someone due to the pandemic. And, the same employers must provide an additional 10 weeks of paid family and medical leave at two-thirds pay for employees who must care for a family member for an extended time. There is also a requirement for posting information about the paid leave that is available. These businesses can access tax credits to help subsidize the paid leave.
With many new rules and requirements to worry about, the potential that more are on the way is real. States and localities are updating their orders on a regular basis to try to stay ahead of the pandemic and reduce the curve. States that have not been hit as hard to date may move to more restrictions on individuals as well as on businesses. NACS members should watch for that. The CDC also regularly updates its guidance. In Congress, however, attention seems to have turned to recovery efforts and trying to find ways to help the economy.
A comeback would certainly be more cheerful news, and there are resources available for businesses. The Paycheck Protection Program for small businesses has received a lot of attention, in part because there is the potential for loan forgiveness. The U.S. Treasury and the Federal Reserve also have substantial resources they are dedicating to liquidity for businesses and there are many tax provisions that may be helpful.
Among the resources out there, I’m partial to the work some of my colleagues have done on these programs:
The IRS also has put together information on new business tax credits.
Keeping a business afloat is no doubt incredibly stressful, but it’s important to manage that stress as best we can. For me, exercising every day helps keep me sane and grounded. Everyone should find what works for them. That means recognizing you need to look for those breaks or treats that help you get through the day.
I know it isn’t easy out there right now and I hope everyone is staying healthy and safe through these tough times. At some point, it will turn around.
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NACS has compiled resources to help the convenience retail community navigate the COVID-19 crisis. For news updates and guidance, visit our coronavirus resources page.
Doug Kantor is a partner in the Washington, D.C. office of Steptoe & Johnson, LLP. He has been counsel to NACS since 2001 and has advised the association and its members on virtually every policy issue that the industry has confronted since that time.